CANNES, France — President Obama’s popularity might have dipped in the United States, but his public standing in Europe remains high. And unlike at home, where even some Democrats are trying not to be seen with Obama, the president retains a certain shine for some of his European counterparts, such as his BFF for the week: French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Sarkozy has arranged three appearances with Obama in the 35 hours hours the president will be on the ground in Cannes for the Group of 20 economic summit
A bilateral meeting with the French premier was Obama’s first stop after he checked into his hotel Thursday. On Friday, the pair will sit for a joint interview on French television, and after the summit concludes, they will host a ceremony honoring American and French troops for helping support the Libyan rebels in ousting the regime of longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
The mutual admiration society led one French television reporter to ask White House aides whether Obama understood that Sarkozy, whose own popularity in France has taken a dive, was facing a tough re-election bid of his own and might be seeking a political boost by appearing with him.
Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, dismissed the notion, saying the joint events were practical not political, springing from a shared sense of mission.
The events underscore “the very close partnership they’ve developed over the course of three years now, and the friendship between the two presidents,” Rhodes said. “What we’ve seen over the course of nearly three years now that President Obama has been in office, we’ve had to deal with extraordinary economic challenges at home and deal with extraordinary global challenges abroad.”
During that period, Rhodes continued, “the president has traveled the world, as he has attended summits like this, and he has developed very close relationships with a number of leaders who have been an important resource, so they can pick up the phone, have very frank and candid discussions, as they have over the course of the last several months leading up to this summit.”
After his bilateral meeting with Sarkozy, Obama called him an “excellent friend” and “an outstanding and trusted partner on the world stage.” He joked about the French president’s new daughter Giulia with wife Carla Bruni, the former super model.
“I informed Nicolas on the way in that I am confident that Giulia inherited her mother’s looks rather than her father’s, which I think is an excellent thing,” Obama said, drawing laughs. “And so now we share one of the greatest challenges and blessings of life, and that is being fathers to our daughters.”
After Obama finished his brief remarks, Sarkozy said: “For four years now, he’s been explaining to me that to be a father to daughters is a fantastic experience -- he who has two daughters. So I have listened to him. As a matter of fact, I followed his example.”
The French television reporter was not satisfied with Rhodes’s initial answer about the relationship, pressing him with a follow-up question about the advantage Sarkozy would glean from the joint appearances.
Said Rhodes: “Obviously the French political calendar is what it is, but this is very much rooted in the fact that we wanted with the French to underscore the partnership with other nations as we deal with a very tough set of challenges.”