Sarkozy US-bound for global talks with Obama

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads to Washington Monday for talks with his US counterpart Barack Obama on international security and France's plans for world monetary reform.

The one-day visit comes as France embarks on its year at the presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) rich and emerging economies, as well as the Group of Eight (G8) powers, during which Sarkozy wants to reform currency and commodity markets and world governance.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss security challenges such as the NATO-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, security in Pakistan and threats from militants that particularly concern France in north Africa.

"President Sarkozy attaches great importance to consulting his big partners" about his leadership this year of the G20 and G8 group of six major Western powers plus Russia and Japan, one of his aides said.

"These discussions will allow him to refine the proposals he will make" during a press conference on January 24 dedicated to the G20 and G8 presidency, said the aide, who asked not be named.

On the Group of Eight, "the discussions will notably cover green economic growth, the Internet and partnership with Africa," the aide said, adding that Obama in turn would attend the G8 summit in France in May.

Sarkozy is due to arrive in Washington, accompanied by his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, on Monday morning and head straight into a meeting with Obama, followed by a joint declaration and then a working lunch.

Bruni-Sarkozy will have lunch separately with US First Lady Michelle Obama, the French presidency said.

France's economy minister Christine Lagarde and foreign minister Michele Alliot-Marie will accompany Sarkozy on the trip, which his office said would also likely cover Middle East peace and the political crisis in Ivory Coast.

It is Sarkozy's first meeting with Obama since the leaking of sensitive US diplomatic cables by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, which contained some embarrassing revelations for world leaders.

They revealed among other things that US diplomats, while lauding Sarkozy's pro-American stance and his pragmatism, branded him erratic and touchy with a complex private life.

The United States came in for criticism of its monetary policy at the last G20 gathering in Seoul, but Obama ahead of Monday's meetings highlighted his keenness for economic cooperation.

"As France assumes the presidency of the G8 and the G20 for 2011, the president looks forward to working with President Sarkozy to sustain the global economic recovery and create jobs," said a White House statement last week.

"The two presidents will also discuss a broad range of current foreign policy and security issues."

The presidency of the global groups offers Sarkozy a chance to boost his profile at home ahead of his widely expected bid for re-election in 2012.

He has low approval ratings and various rivals are expected in the coming months to announce bids to replace him.

© 2011 AFP

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