Obama lauds under-fire Hollande as leader of resolve

Agence France-Presse

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The French president, under fire at home over his country's still struggling economy, high unemployment and his own tumultuous love life, basked in a center stage role at the White House

STATE VISIT. US President Barack Obama (R) walks with French President Francois Hollande (L) for a military review during a welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 11 February 2014. Chip Somodevilla/EPA/Pool

WASHINGTON DC, USA – US President Barack Obama praised France’s beleaguered Francois Hollande as a courageous ally in the battle against extremism from Africa to Iran on Tuesday, February 11, as he laid on a lavish state visit.

The French president, under fire at home over his country’s still struggling economy, high unemployment and his own tumultuous love life, basked in a center stage role at the White House.

Both sides played up burgeoning national security cooperation, and marveled that a 200-year-old alliance – for a while poisoned by a dispute over the Iraq war – is now thriving.

Obama, who made exiting foreign wars a cornerstone of his presidency, hailed France as a model ally willing to bear the collective burden of keeping the world safe.

“This level of partnership across so many areas would have been unimaginable even a decade ago,” Obama said.

“But it’s a testament to how our two nations have worked to transform our alliance.”

Hollande said that common founding values of liberty meant France and the United States could “act on security throughout the world for freedom, democracy, the rule of law.”

“We want to be together again,” he said.

In Oval Office talks, the leaders forged a common front on using diplomacy to check Iran’s nuclear program, the need for a political solution to end Syria’s torment and to work together to combat climate change.

Hollande has the lowest domestic approval ratings of any modern French president, but Obama warmly praised him for bravely doing his duty as a global statesman.

“From Mali and the Central African Republic to Syria and Iran, you’ve shown courage and resolve,” Obama said.

Hollande proclaimed: “We stand together to combat terrorism, to respond to the threat of proliferating nuclear and chemical weapons, together to resolve the crises of the Middle East.”

He also said that after a furor over US spying programs in Europe leaked by fugitive US contractor Edward Snowden, “mutual trust” has been restored.

Both leaders also raised the importance of a planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty between Europe and the United States.

Obama is facing stiff domestic opposition to the plan among fellow Democrats in a mid-term election year.

Hollande said that, with good faith, all sides could conclude the deal more quickly.

The one note of discord came when Obama was asked by a US reporter about a large group of French firms including Total and Peugeot which toured Iran last week to test business opportunities should Western sanctions be lifted.

“They do so at their own peril right now. Because we will come down on them like a ton of bricks,” Obama said, warning there would be no comprehensive lifting of sanctions until a final nuclear deal is reached with Iran.

Hollande agreed, but said he could not control the travel plans of French corporations.

Glaring absence

Earlier, the presidents stood side-by-side on the chilly White House lawn framed by the red, white and blue of the Stars and Stripes and the French tricolor as a 21-gun salute split the air and ranks of troops in dress uniform stood to attention.

Hollande paid tribute to the sacrifice of US soldiers in World War II and Obama accepted an invitation to attend D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations in June alongside Queen Elizabeth II, head of state of Britain and Canada.

Earlier, a senior US official praised France for helping quell unrest and extremist violence in parts of Africa.

Washington has provided logistical, intelligence and airborne support for some French missions in Africa’s Sahel and the previous government of Nicolas Sarkozy took a major role in the Libya war.

Hollande came to Washington hoping to shed embarrassment from his split from girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler – France’s former first lady.

But her absence will be glaring at the state dinner on Tuesday night in a plush tent on the White House lawn where guests will savor American caviar, quail eggs, rib-eye steak, and Vermont blue cheese, washed down with a selection of American wines.

Hollande opened his three-day visit to the United States with a rare flight for a foreign leader aboard Air Force One on Monday, February 10, and a tour of the Virginia homestead of the ultimate US francophile, former president Thomas Jefferson.

“We will remain friends forever,” he said.

Hollande is under intense pressure to boost his country’s ailing economy.

So he will try to generate some positive coverage for French innovation when he flies from Washington to California on Wednesday to meet tech leaders in Silicon Valley. – Rappler.com

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