Visiting Washington this week for the first time as president, Nicolas Sarkozy will depict France as a reliable U.S. ally once again, even as differences over exchange rates and trade simmer beneath the surface.
Sarkozy's talks with President George W. Bush, starting with dinner at the White House tonight, will focus on shared opposition to Iran's nuclear program and on support for Kosovo's push for independence from Serbia, according to the French president's spokesman, David Martinon.
``They are not here to disagree, just to show the world how much they agree on,'' Dominique Moisi, the senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, said in an telephone interview. ``Sarkozy will give a new flavor and depth to the relationship.''
Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was at the forefront of the international opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The new French leader has sought a clean break from Chirac's policies since he came to power in May.
``This visit will establish that France and the U.S. are back together after the 2003 crisis,'' Martinon told reporters in Paris Nov. 2. The trip will mainly focus on ``political'' issues, and will be ``about symbols'' of renewed friendship, he said.
Sarkozy has pushed for tougher sanctions against Iran to halt what Western countries suspect is a nuclear weapons program. Iran says it's developing atomic power to produce electricity.
Backing on Kosovo
The French leader has also endorsed the U.S. view that the Albanian-majority province of Kosovo will eventually become independent. That's irked Russian President Vladimir Putin, who won more understanding from Chirac for his support for continuing Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo.
One area of diplomatic disagreement may get an airing when Sarkozy discusses France's presidency of the European Union next year in an address to Congress tomorrow. The French president's opposition to Turkey's bid to join the EU is at odds with the Bush administration's backing.
There are also differences over economic issues, though Sarkozy will seek to downplay these during the trip. The French leader may use an address to the French-American Business Council in Washington today to renew complaints that the euro's 10 percent rise against the dollar this year is hurting European exporters.
The dollar fell today to an all-time low of $1.4570 per euro, on speculation financial-company losses from U.S. subprime-mortgage defaults will grow, prompting the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates for a third time this year. It traded at $1.4563 as of 3:51 p.m. in Paris from $1.4469 late yesterday in New York.
France's European affairs minister, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, said in an interview with the newspaper Les Echos last week that the euro's climb is a result of U.S. policy and ``not a European problem.''
Executives of French companies including cosmetics maker L'Oreal SA and Schneider Electric SA are due to accompany Sarkozy.
The French president is also insisting that the U.S. should cut farm subsidies to reach an agreement at the World Trade Organization, saying the EU has made enough concessions. Sarkozy has also called for increased transparency to prevent buyout firms and hedge funds from acting as ``predators'' at the expense of ``hundreds of thousands'' of jobs. The U.S. opposes such demands for greater regulation.
Tonight's official dinner will be followed by a working lunch tomorrow at Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of the first U.S. president, George Washington.
Iran is likely to be ``at the heart'' of the two men's discussions at that lunch, the U.S. ambassador in Paris, Craig R. Stapleton, told France's i-Television in an interview Nov. 2.
Highlighting other areas of concord, Martinon said the U.S. and France will also agree to tell Syria not to meddle in Lebanon amid a standoff in that country's parliament over the election of a new president.
Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Kosovo, climate change and global trade talks will all come up in talks between Sarkozy and Bush, White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. The two leaders won't attempt to achieve a ``signature accomplishment,'' he said.
Sarkozy, 52, and Bush, 61, are likely to also discuss France's proposal to play a bigger role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. France has been outside NATO's integrated military command since President Charles de Gaulle withdrew French forces in 1966.
Since his election, Sarkozy has repeatedly said France is an ``ally'' of the U.S., adding that doesn't mean being ``aligned'' on every issue.
``The difference is that they trust us more now,'' French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told Europe 1 radio on Nov. 4.
The White House also stresses Franco-American solidarity. Johndroe said France ``is a strong ally of the United States.''
In August, the new French leader spent his vacation with his wife Cecilia, whom he has since divorced, and friends, in New Hampshire. He visited the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
In another sign of the improved Franco-U.S. relationship, Sarkozy sent Kouchner to Iraq in August, the first high-level French visit since the 2003 invasion. Kouchner called on Europe to offer help because ``the Americans can't get this country out of difficulty alone.'' ( Bloomberg )