Analysis: French Leader Is U.S. Friendly

The Associated Press
Sunday, May 6, 2007; 4:29 PM

PARIS -- Au revoir, Jacques Chirac, and bonjour to a new U.S.-friendly French president who identifies with the American dream and happily affirms that the French like burgers, Madonna and Miami Vice.

To France's "American friends," Nicolas Sarkozy said in his victory speech: "I want to tell them that France will always be by their side when they need." He added, "I also want to tell them that friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions."

But Sarkozy's gaze in his first months in office will be directed more at home than across the Atlantic.

French voters didn't elect the conservative because he promises a warmer new approach to the often troubled yet also deeply rooted relationship between France and the United States. In fact, Sarkozy's America-friendly inclination was seen more as an electoral liability than an advantage.

The new president's priorities will be to get France's sluggish economy and Europe's stalled process of integration moving forward again.

With the exception of Europe _ a national obsession in France, which sees itself as a natural leader of the continent _ foreign affairs got scant attention in the long presidential campaign that was dominated by worries over jobs, the economy and how to compete against rising powers like China.

That means not much is known about how President Sarkozy will lead France on the world stage _ even though foreign affairs are a major part of his new job, an area where Chirac had considerable expertise and where he often seemed more at ease than with domestic issues.

As Chirac's minister for the interior and, in 2004, for finance, Sarkozy worked with governments in Europe and Africa to combat illegal immigration and terrorism, represented France at the International Monetary Fund, and irritated Berlin by protecting the French engineering giant Alstom SA from the advances of Germany rival Siemens AG.

But it is unknown how Sarkozy would cope in a major international crisis.

"He's never done any serious, hands-on broad spectrum diplomacy," notes Francois Heisbourg, a leading French foreign and strategic affairs expert.

The learning curve for Sarkozy promises to be steep, and Iran will be a foremost challenge requiring immediate attention. Within days of Sarkozy's inauguration, which must take place before May 17, the international community could ratchet up sanctions against the regime in Tehran if it continues to refuse to suspend its nuclear program. France under Sarkozy can be expected to go along. He describes Iranian leaders as "extremely dangerous."

"It's the most sensitive and dangerous dossier in international relations today," he says.

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