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French comment on Obama's brief encounter with Sarkozy

President Obama says the four hours he could allot to President Nicolas Sarkozy meant only that he had 'a very tough schedule' during his visit to France.

June 07, 2009|Devorah Lauter | Lauter is a special correspondent.

PARIS — The French news media have made much of the fact that President Obama is spending the "minimum" one-on-one time with French President Nicolas Sarkozy during his weekend visit to Paris and Normandy.

"Can one stay in the capital of an allied country without saying hello to your neighbor?" the French daily Le Figaro said Saturday. (The Obama family is spending the weekend at the U.S. ambassador's residence on the chic Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, only a couple of hundred yards from the Elysee Palace -- France's equivalent of the White House.)

And Obama, who arrived Friday night, declined a personal or official meeting with Sarkozy before Saturday's D-day ceremony in Normandy. Instead, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner greeted the U.S. president at the airport.

Sarkozy insisted that there was no frustration over Obama's schedule.

"We're not here, watch in hand, saying, 'How much time did you spend with so-and-so?' " the French leader said Saturday at a news conference. "I understand that you should put the question, but frankly, do you think people are just waiting to see us hand in hand sitting here looking into one another's eyes? Of course not."

When asked about the apparent Sarkozy "snub," Obama said the roughly four hours he could allot to the French leader meant only that he had "a very tough schedule."

"I would love nothing more than to have a leisurely week in Paris, stroll down the Seine, take my wife out to a nice meal, have a picnic. . . . Those days are over, for the moment."

But the magazine Figaro concluded that whether or not the two leaders are good friends, the French should simply come to terms with the fact that they are not a major American priority.

"Europe? The truth is, Obama worries very little about it," Alexis Brezet wrote.

But not all was lost. First Lady Michelle Obama, who will stay in Paris a day longer than her husband, will have lunch today with Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni.

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