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Bush, Sarkozy stand on common ground

The Nation

They praise each other, celebrate friendship and state convergent goals for Afghanistan, Iran and even Iraq.

November 08, 2007|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

MOUNT VERNON, VA. — President Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy saluted the thaw in the French-American relationship on Wednesday, finding common ground on Afghanistan and Iran -- two of the most troublesome foreign-policy challenges -- and suggesting they even agreed on Iraq, the bete noire of Washington's dealings with Paris.

On a wind-swept lawn of George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation, the two presidents gushed about each other and the improved state of U.S.-French ties, using language that might have been dismissed as diplomatic hyperbole had relations not grown so sour after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

"I get the distinct sense that it is France that has been welcomed so warmly, with so much friendship, so much love," Sarkozy said. "When I say that the French people love the American people, that is the truth and nothing but the truth."

Bush, only slightly less effusive, said to his guest: "You've impressed a lot of people here on your journey. You bring a lot of energy, enthusiasm for your lob, love of your country, and a strong set of universal values in your heart."

He singled out Sarkozy's support in Afghanistan, where he is maintaining the French military deployment in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. "I can't thank the president enough for his willingness to stand with young democracies as they struggle against extremists and radicals," Bush said.

The unmentioned shadow over the meetings was Jacques Chirac, who was president of France when, as Bush pointed out, the French supported the U.N. Security Council resolution used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq but did not support the military operation.

"It's clear that you're a man who does what he says he's going to do," Bush said to Sarkozy. "It's the kind of fellow I like to deal with."

They shared dinner Tuesday night at the White House, and lunch of Chesapeake Bay crab and seared rockfish in the Mount Vernon greenhouse on Wednesday. Portable heaters masked by potted ferns were placed on their stage for the outdoor news conference to fend off the November chill, but they showed up nonetheless in nearly identical blue topcoats.

Even the setting chosen by the White House, unusual for diplomatic talks, symbolized the new warmth: George Washington relied heavily on the military contributions of a young Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette, during the American Revolution.

From then, jump forward to Wednesday, when Bush and Sarkozy could have been reading from a shared script.

The French president said it was "unacceptable that Iran should have at any point a nuclear weapon" and said their lengthy discussion about Iran "showed exactly how convergent our views were."

And he sounded much like Bush when he said that France wanted "a united Iraq . . . a democratic Iraq . . . a diverse Iraq," and one at peace and able to govern itself.

Sarkozy arrived at Mount Vernon after addressing a joint session of Congress -- where four years ago members railed against French opposition to the war in Iraq. Speaking in French, Sarkozy noted that Lafayette was the first foreign dignitary to address Congress. In an ode to the enduring U.S.-French friendship, he lauded America's values, its commitment to Europe during the World Wars and its role as an exemplar of freedom.

He also called on the United States to move to the front of the fight against climate change. "Those who love the country of wide-open spaces, of national parks and nature protected, nature reserves, expect America to stand alongside Europe in leading -- I repeat, leading -- the fight against global warming that threatens the destruction of our planet."

Underscoring his message of a bedrock friendship that should survive occasional disagreements, Sarkozy concluded, "I want to be your friend, your ally, your partner. But I wish to be a friend who stands on his own two feet."

--

james.gerstenzang@latimes.com

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