By GEORGE GEDDA
The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 12, 2006; 9:00 PM
WASHINGTON -- It's not every day that pro-American sentiments are uttered with a French accent. But Nicholas Sarkozy is not your everyday French politician.
Sarkozy is France's Interior minister and a potential candidate in France's presidential elections next spring. What sets him apart from his colleagues in France's political class is his unabashed admiration for the United States.
He is on a four-day U.S. visit, timed to show solidarity with the United States on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The French people have "compassion for the suffering of Americans, and respect for the energy, courage and combativeness of every American and the way they have proved this over the past five years," he said Tuesday.
Sarkozy said the French remember American heroism in France's defense in two world wars. He also recalled that the United States and France have never gone to war, a situation that contrasts sharply with the violence that marked U.S.-British ties in early U.S. history.
According to French opinion polls, Sarkozy, a conservative, and Socialist former government minister Segolene Royal are the top likely contenders to succeed Jacques Chirac as president in elections in 2007.
While relations between the U.S. and France have improved since the fallout over the Iraq invasion in 2003, President Bush is still often criticized in France over his handling of the war and his broader fight against terrorism.
In a Washington speech on Tuesday, Sarkozy said critical accounts of the United States in the French media often do not reflect the true feelings of the French people.
He said the French love American food, its television programs and its movies. "Every French parent dreams of sending their child to an American university," he said.
"I don't see where it is possible that French hate the Americans," Sarkozy added. He blamed misperceptions about the United States on French "elites and journalists."
On the burning foreign policy issues of the day, Sarkozy is in Washington's camp, dispensing with ambiguities in stating his position. Iran, he said, "made itself into an outlaw nation" and must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
"Iran does not have the right to test nuclear weapons," said Sarkozy, describing as "terrifying" the prospect that Iran might possess nuclear armaments.
Sarkozy said the problem must be dealt with through diplomacy but, sounding much like Bush, "all options must remain on the table."
He also expressed support for Israel, holding the Hezbollah guerrillas fully responsible for the recent monthlong war between the two. France and the United States helped broker the U.N. resolution that brought an end to the fighting.
Sarkozy also declared that the United States and France "have exactly the same ideas" concerning freedom and human rights. He expressed confidence that the two countries will transcend their prolonged divisions.
After the speech, Sarkozy met separately with Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.