US presidential candidate Obama says US loves France

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Barack Obama thanked Sarkozy for sending more troops to Afghanistan and say Americans have an "enormous fondness" for the French.

28 July 2008

PARIS - Barack Obama travelled to Paris Friday to tell President Nicolas Sarkozy that Americans have an "enormous fondness" for the French and to thank him for sending more troops to Afghanistan. 

The Democratic White House hopeful effusively praised the rightwing French leader at a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace, despite perceptions that an affinity for France can damage US presidential candidates.

"He has been a great leader on this, and the American people greatly appreciate President Sarkozy's approach to the relationship," Obama said, on the penultimate day of a Europe
and Middle East campaign tour.

"I think the average American has enormous fondness for the French people," said Obama, despite recent rows, especially over staunch French opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Sarkozy returned the compliment, and joked about the fact that both he and Obama were the sons of immigrants to their respective countries.

He said that during the hour-long talk they held Friday they had found "a great convergence of views."

Obama's tour – he left late Friday for the last leg in London - is aimed at burnishing his foreign policy credentials ahead of November elections in which the 46-year-old Democrat will face the 71-year-old Republican John MCain.

He has been to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Germany, where on Thursday he received a rock star welcome from 200,000 cheering fans for a speech calling for the world to tear down walls of division and hate.

He said in Paris he was "grateful for the French troop presence that already exists (in Afghanistan) and for President Sarkozy's willingness to send additional troops."

"I understand the difficult politics of this in France and I understand the difficult politics throughout Europe and that's why I think President Sarkozy's stand is so courageous," he said. 

France recently committed 700 extra troops to the NATO force.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force has steadily grown to about 52,000 soldiers. They are drawn from 40 nations, mostly the United States which also heads a separate coalition of about 20,000 troops.

The United States led the invasion that ousted the extremist Taliban from government in late 2001.

On Thursday Obama met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had signalled clearly a day before that she would resist any pressure to send more troops to Afghanistan to join a NATO-led force battling the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The US presidential campaign has riveted France, where many are eager for a change from the administration of George W. Bush and where polls mirror those across Europe to show Obama is the candidate most people want to win.

Le Monde newspaper's front-page headline stated Friday that "Europe is under the charm of Barack Obama."

The election a year ago of the pro-American Sarkozy greatly improved US-French relations.

Repairing relations between the United States and Europe - strained over the Iraq war - was a theme of Obama's Berlin speech, where he said that "the walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand."

"The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down," he said, echoing former US president Ronald Reagan's 1987 call to tear down the Berlin Wall.

But the Berlin speech was short on specifics, and Obama's foes will likely accuse him of empty rhetoric.

McCain, a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war who has long been an influential voice on foreign policy and defence, took a swipe at his rival on Thursday, visiting a German sausage restaurant in Ohio.

He said he would love to give a speech in Berlin, but only as president.

Obama is the favourite to win the election, with the latest poll from Fox News on Thursday showing that 51 percent of Americans believe he will triumph, with only 27 percent betting on McCain.

[AP / Expatica]

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