Visiting French Presidential Hopeful Lauds U.S. in Speech

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the leading presidential candidate for France's ruling conservative party, swept through Washington yesterday, delivering an unabashedly pro-American speech and landing meetings with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Sarkozy covered many of the bases that French politicians hit when they want to laud the United States, such as mentioning Lafayette's role in the American Revolution and citing the French love of blue jeans, hamburgers and American movies. But then he went beyond those standards, proudly noting that his distinctly pro-American viewpoint had earned him "substantial criticism" in France.

"I'm not a coward," Sarkozy said. "I'm proud of this friendship, and I proclaim it gladly."

Sarkozy's remarks are especially noteworthy because he chose to kick off the campaign season in France by making the U.S. tour, which included honoring the New York City Fire Department in a stop in New York on Sept. 11.

Many other European leaders close to Bush, such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have suffered politically. But in some parts of yesterday's speech at the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sarkozy delivered the kind of rhetoric that would be expected of a Bush administration official, especially on Iran, Israel and counterterrorism, said Jonathan Laurence, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. "There is not a whole lot of daylight between Sarkozy and Washington on some key foreign policy issues," he said.

Sarkozy also appeared to attack French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin for their dramatic confrontation -- what he called "sterile grandiloquence" -- with the Bush administration over Iraq. "It's not appropriate to try and embarrass one's allies or give the impression of gloating over their difficulties," he said.

Sarkozy described the government in Tehran as an "outlaw nation" and said the prospect of it obtaining nuclear weapons would be a "terrifying" development that would "open the way for a murderous arms race in the region." Hinting at military action, he added that "diplomacy must be our main weapon, but we must leave all options open."

While French politicians tend to criticize Israel, Sarkozy said he was close to Israel and supports its right to defend itself against the "aggressor," the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, even as he suggested the response might have been disproportionate.

Sarkozy also noted that despite the breach over Iraq, intelligence cooperation continued between France and the United States because, he said, "we have the same adversaries. Bin Laden targeted New York, but he might just as well have targeted Paris."

Breaking with the administration, Sarkozy delivered a strong plea for action on global warming and rejected the idea of accepting Turkey into the European Union.

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