Visit Marks Better US-French Relations

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The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 6, 2007; 8:49 PM

WASHINGTON -- "Freedom fries" are so yesterday _ replaced now by lobster bisque and lamb at an elegant White House dinner, where President Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday night officially opened a cozier chapter in U.S.-French relations.

The two countries back tough diplomacy to keep Iran from having nuclear weapons. They have jointly sponsored U.N. resolutions supporting Lebanese sovereignty. And while France fiercely opposed the war in Iraq, Sarkozy sent his foreign minister on a surprise three-day trek to Baghdad in August to enhance France's role in Iraq's future.

Bush began a toast to Sarkozy in the State Dining Room by saying "welcome to the White House" in French, then talked of working with France to help others around the world resist tyranny and oppression.

"French and American troops are helping defend a young democracy in Afghanistan," Bush said. "Our two nations support the democratic government in Lebanon. We agree that reconciliation and democracy in Iraq are vital to the future of the Middle East. And our two nations condemn violations of human rights in Darfur, in Burma and around the world."

Sarkozy, who was seated next to first lady Laura Bush, came to the White House alone. He and his wife, Cecilia, announced their divorce on Oct. 18, a first for a French head of state.

In his toast, which was considerably longer than Bush's, Sarkozy acknowledged anti-American sentiment in his country by joking that his victory is proof that one can be a friend of the U.S. and still win elections in France.

Sarkozy spoke with passion about freedom and liberty and the need for U.S.-French cooperation in addressing terrorism, nuclear proliferation, poverty and religious fanaticism.

"I've come to Washington to bear a very simple, straightforward message ... I wish to re-conquer the heart of America. I want to re-conquer the heart of America in a lasting fashion," he said.

Even before he was elected in May, Sarkozy worked to mend relations with the U.S. that were bruised by former French President Jacques Chirac's clash with Bush, especially over the Iraq war.

"I never quite understood why we had to fight with the United States," Sarkozy said earlier in the day.

"When we Europeans were faced with the worst atrocities of the 20th century, two abominable wars, your parents came to help us," Sarkozy said at a meeting of the French-American Business Council. "I am here to tell you that the French people will never forget."

As the evening began, Bush smiled and waved at Sarkozy before he emerged from a black limousine that was adorned with tiny French and American flags. The two leaders, both dressed in tuxedoes, shook hands and briefly embraced. Sarkozy kissed Laura Bush's hand, then both her cheeks. As the three walked into the White House on a red and gold carpet, Bush patted Sarkozy on the back.

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© 2007 The Associated Press

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