(AFP) – Mar 26, 2008
LONDON (AFP) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Wednesday for Britain and France to open a new chapter in relations as he headed for a state visit here.
Sarkozy is sharing the limelight with his former supermodel wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in their highest-profile international engagement since marrying in February, as they meet Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The president, who is under pressure at home to adopt a more statesmanlike image, was also to make a speech to both houses of parliament on the first day of his two-day trip.
Ahead of the visit, Sarkozy said he hoped to persuade his hosts that Britain should work with France to build a new European Union.
"Who can possibly think that we can build the Europe of tomorrow without Britain?" Sarkozy said in an interview with BBC radio.
"Who can possibly think that Britain can live alone, ignorant of a Europe which is just 30 kilometres (19 miles) away? Who really believes that? We need each other.
"I say: 'Put yourself at the centre of Europe, we need you, we need your strength, we need your potential, we need your dynamism'."
Sarkozy said the time had come for Britain and France to leave aside centuries of mutual suspicion.
"It has been long enough now that we have not been at war, that we are not wrangling," he said.
"Perhaps we can move from being cordial to being friendly... We are stronger if we work hand-in-hand," he said, in a play on the well-known "Entente Cordiale" between France and Britain.
The visit is being seen as an opportunity for Sarkozy and Brown to turn the page on the strained relations between their predecessors Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair, who fell out over Britain's strong support for the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Sarkozy said he would also discuss with Brown France's commitment to the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan, saying it was a battle that NATO could not afford to lose.
Asked if France was planning to send 1,000 more troops to Afghanistan, he replied: "It is a long-term commitment... If these conditions are fulfilled, why not go in with larger numbers?"
Regardless of the politics, most of the photographers' lenses will be trained on Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, 40, who surely became the first French first lady to be greeted on a state visit by a host of newspapers featuring a full-frontal nude photograph of her.
The portrait, taken in 1993, is to be auctioned by Christie's.
The visit has been portrayed by the French media as an opportunity for Sarkozy to boost his ratings with a more statesmanlike image after months in which his personal life has played centre stage.
His ex-wife Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz re-married Sunday in New York.
Sarkozy and his new wife were to arrive at London's Heathrow airport at 1125 GMT and spend the night at Windsor Castle, the queen's favourite home, in a rare honour for a visiting foreign leader.
There was also to be a procession through Windsor's streets in a horse-drawn carriage and a state banquet.
After the splendour and ceremony of Wednesday, Thursday will see a break with tradition as a Franco-British summit is held at the ultra-modern Emirates Stadium of the London-based Arsenal football club.
Arsenal have a French coach, Arsene Wenger, and a sizeable contingent of French or French-speaking players.
Sarkozy and Brown are expected to announce a deal for France to help Britain build a new generation of nuclear power plants.
They will also call for greater transparency of financial markets, including full disclosure of write-offs by banks, in the wake of the ongoing market turbulence and the near-collapse of US investment bank Bear Stearns.
Sarkozy may also repeat the threat he made Tuesday that he refused to rule out boycotting the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics over China's crackdown in Tibet.
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