(AFP) – Nov 7, 2007
MOUNT VERNON, United States (AFP) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to the United States Wednesday and vowed to back the US stand on Iran and Afghanistan as he sought to forge a new era in cross-Atlantic ties.
Hoping to turn the page on four years of frosty relations over the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Sarkozy solemnly vowed to nurture the historic friendship between the two countries and pledged to stand by Washington on some burning issues.
"We may have differences, we may disagree on things, we may even have arguments, as in many families," Sarkozy told the US Congress in a rare address to the two chambers by a foreign dignitary.
"But in times of difficulty, in times of hardship, one stands true to one's friends, one stands shoulder to shoulder with them, one supports them, and one helps them."
Gone were the days when French fries were struck from the Congress menu here as unpatriotic, as US lawmakers rose to their feet to give Sarkozy a three-minute standing ovation when he swept into the wood-paneled chamber.
In lingering references to the US role in World War II, the new French leader vowed the French people would never forget their debt to the Americans. "France will never forget the sacrifice of your children," Sarkozy promised.
"The men and women of my generation heard their parents talk about how America returned in 1944 to free us from the horrifying tyranny that threatened to enslave us ... That is why we love America."
After four years of frosty ties under his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy pledged Washington could be assured of French backing on such issues as Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
France would "remain engaged in Afghanistan for as long as it takes, because what is at stake in that country is the very future of our values, and that of the Atlantic alliance."
And he backed the tough US line on Iran's nuclear program, saying to applause that "the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable to France."
But in a rare note of criticism he urged the Americans to do more to shore up the dollar and called upon them to take the lead in the fight against global warming.
Bush, who welcomed Sarkozy in French to a black-tie White House dinner late Tuesday, was also gushing in his praise of the new French leader at a post-summit press conference Wednesday in Virginia.
"Your leadership for your country is very impressive," Bush said. "You send a clear message. It is clear that you're a man who does what he says he is going to do. That is the kind of fellow I like to deal with."
Sarkozy said France was also worried about the political crisis in Pakistan, which is currently under a state of emergency. "We need to have elections as swiftly as possible," he said.
And turning to Iraq, Sarkozy steered clear of any criticism of the US-led conflict saying France wanted only to see "a united Iraq. It is in no one's interest to see Iraq dismantled. We want a democratic Iraq."
The brief visit has been steeped in history at every turn. During his Congress address, Sarkozy hailed the role played by French nobleman and diplomat the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolution.
He then met with Bush on the sprawling grounds of Mount Vernon, the former residence of the first US president George Washington.
Sarkozy was also keen to praise US influence around the world in his address to Congress, even though many French remain cautious at the huge power wielded by Hollywood studios over Western culture.
"My generation without even coming to America shared all of your dreams and our imagination was fueled by Hollywood, by the great conquest of the western territories, by Elvis Presley. You have probably not often heard his name quoted here, but for my generation he is universal."
He also went on to name such greats as jazz musician Duke Ellington, actors John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe, civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. and the US astronauts "who fulfilled mankind's oldest dream on the day when Americans walked on the moon."
Asked in an interview with French television TF1 if Sarkozy's arrival in office post-Chirac had helped warm relations, Bush said: "In the sense that every individual matters ... each person brings their own set of personalities and values.
"And President Sarkozy is a man of deep values. He's got a lot of energy. He's a lot of fun to be around, plus he's a serious man and he wants to -- he's like me, he wants to solve problems."
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