France, US stand united on Iran, Mideast peace

Other News Materials 6 June 2009 20:25 (UTC +04:00)

President Barack Obama and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, stood united Saturday in efforts to thwart Iran's disputed nuclear ambitions and bring about a Mideast peace that provides for separate Israeli and Palestinian states, AP reported.

"We want peace. We want dialogue. We want to help them develop. But we do not want military nuclear weapons to spread and we are clear on that," said Sarkokzy, who hosted Obama for private talks in this Normandy city before commemorating the D-Day invasion that cemented the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Sarkozy said he worries about "insane statements" by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obama, in turn, reaffirmed that there must be "tough diplomacy" with Tehran and said Iran's actions are contrary to its leaders' insistence that the country does not seek nuclear weapons.

Obama said he wants to see greater U.S.-Russian efforts to limit nuclear weapons and said that his work against nuclear proliferation and the efforts toward that end by other countries should signal Iran's leaders that they are not being singled out for rebuke.

On other matters, Sarkozy also agreed with Obama's call for Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank, and said his country would take some detainees currently held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility, as the United States has asked.

Obama welcomed the support and said that he and Sarkozy will work "in close collaboration" on many issues, including anti-terrorism strategy.

The two countries clearly have their differences; France has resisted U.S. appeals for greater efforts to stimulate European economies and more European troops in Afghanistan, where the United States has stepped up its engagement under Obama's administration.

But the relationship that turned frosty under George W. Bush largely because of the Iraq war has seemed to thaw some with Sarkozy and Obama at the helm of their respective countries. Both have expressed fondness for each other - and did so again Saturday.

The first couples of each country - Obama and his wife Michelle and Sarkozy and model-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy - greeted each other warmly with grins, hugs and, for the women, double kisses on the cheeks outside of the French Prefecture, as several hundred people cheered, shrieked and waved small French and American flags from behind security barriers around the regional headquarters. Police surrounded the crowd from all sides.

Obama and Sarkozy shook a few of the onlookers' hands and listened to each country's national anthem in the gravel palace courtyard before heading down the red carpeted walkway to retreat inside for private talks over lunch.

Their wives - dueling style icons - were to meet separately. They wore competing outfits: Michelle Obama was in a white dress topped by a matching white coat and a wide gold belt, while Carla Bruni-Sarkozy donned a cream dress with a thin brown belt.

The U.S. president is rounding out a Mideast and European swing in Normandy, whose cliffs and coastline are still pocked with gun batteries and other remnants of World War II. He will honor the 65th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, invasion, which was pivotal to the Allied victory against the Nazis.

Some 215,000 Allied soldiers, and roughly as many Germans, were killed or wounded during D-Day and the ensuing nearly three months it took to secure the Allied capture of Normandy, a battle that helped free France from Nazi control.

There's a personal side for Obama. His grandfather, Stanley Dunham, came ashore at Omaha Beach six weeks after D-Day. Dunham's older brother Ralph hit Omaha on D-Day plus four.

Hours before his arrival, farmers and their children stood along the narrow, winding roads toward Omaha Beach, waving at buses bringing veterans to the ceremony.

Obama will speak on what is technically U.S. soil - the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. The leaders of France, Britain and Canada also will attend, and a 12-plane flyover by French, British and American jets also is planned.

American, British and other veterans rode a bus from Caen to Colleville-sur-Mer for the invitation-only afternoon ceremony on Omaha Beach.

"You get an invite like that, you don't turn it down," said Isaac Phillips of Carlton, Georgia. Now 84, he was four days shy of his 20th birthday when he climbed into the Atlantic off Utah Beach with the 22nd Infantry Regiment.

"The water was up to here," he said, waving a steady, wizened hand at shoulder height.

"We didn't know what was going on. There were fellows who hadn't ever seen blood before. You lose your faith, your sense of what's right," he said, his blue-gray eyes clouding over at the memory of the ensuing days of warfare in Normandy's pastoral villages.

Obama arrived in Paris on Friday night from Germany. He previously visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Michelle Obama and her two daughters paid a surprise visit to the Eiffel Tower on Friday night. It is the first excursion abroad as presidential daughters for 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha, expected to stay in France until at least Monday. The president leaves Sunday.