Obama Gets Royal Treatment in France

"If he is chosen, then France will be delighted," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said of Barack Obama, who met with him in Paris. (By Remy De La Mauviniere -- Associated Press)
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By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 26, 2008

PARIS, July 25 -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy rolled out the red carpet and more for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Friday, offering an effusive embrace that bordered on an endorsement, while a French media throng recorded the arrival of Europe's suddenly favorite American politician.

"My dear Barack Obama," Sarkozy called the senator from Illinois as the two shared a stage normally reserved for heads of state. Obama called Sarkozy "my dear friend, President Sarkozy" and at one point laid a friendly hand on his host's shoulder.

The president kept insisting that the American people, not a French politician, will pick the next leader of the United States, but he seemed incapable of taking his own words seriously.

Describing the choice for U.S. voters in November, he treated presumptive Republican nominee John McCain almost as an afterthought. "So good luck to Barack Obama," he said. "If he is chosen, then France will be delighted. And if it's somebody else, then France will be the friend of the United States of America."

Obama will have visited with three European leaders in three days by the time he wraps up his week-long tour of the Middle East and Europe on Saturday. He met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday and will meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Saturday. Obama also met with leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan and Israel, as well as with Palestinian leaders.

Brown and Sarkozy have both lost popularity since coming into office within the past 18 months. Brown may be in the worst shape after his Labor Party lost a special election in his native Scotland earlier in the week. But Sarkozy, too, is struggling, and seemed eager to be associated with an American politician who is highly popular in France.

A day after drawing about 200,000 people to the center of Berlin for an evening speech on the future of transatlantic relations, Obama found in miniature the same kind of interest and curiosity about his candidacy in Paris.

Crowds gathered behind barricades along the streets near the presidential palace, and when Obama's motorcade rolled to a stop, Sarkozy could be seen in the distance, standing alone almost at attention at the top of the steps, awaiting his guest.

Minutes later, with a huge string of photographers and television cameras waiting, Obama's car pulled into the courtyard and the visit was underway. But in no time, the two politicians were back in front of the cameras for a news conference that lasted almost as long as the meeting.

"I want to say to Barack Obama that the French have been following with passion the election campaign in the United States," Sarkozy began, "because the United States are a great democracy, and that it's fascinating to watch what's happening there."

Sarkozy, who presides over a center-right government, has been a pro-American president who has a cordial relationship with President Bush. But on Friday, he was all Obama. "We need an America that is present, not absent," he said. "We need friends who are independent, but who are true friends. And you have to know that here in Europe, here in France, we're watching with great interest what you're doing."

It was difficult to know whether Sarkozy's exuberance was getting the best of him in the presence of Obama. When a U.S. reporter asked whether Sarkozy's opening statement should be read as an endorsement -- and whether he had conferred with Bush about it, Obama stepped in. "I'm going to warn my dear friend, President Sarkozy, to be very careful about that second question," he said.

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