- Barack Obama - diplomacy - Nicolas Sarkozy - USA - world economy
Sarkozy and Obama break bread to mend ties
A private dinner with US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle on Tuesday will be the highlight of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to the United States, as the two leaders aim to repair their differences.
AFP - French President Nicolas Sarkozy aimed to overcome years of strained Franco-American ties as he prepared Tuesday for talks and an intimate dinner with US President Barack Obama.
In his first White House visit since Obama came to office more than a year ago, Sarkozy was also hoping to deflect attention away from his troubles back home after being forced to backtrack on some of his signature reforms.
After summit talks around 1930 GMT, Obama and his wife Michelle were to welcome the French president and glamorous first lady, supermodel-turned-singer Carla Bruni, to the White House for a private dinner.
It marks the first time a foreign leader has been invited to dine with just the Obamas in their private rooms and is being seen as a fence-mending exercise after Obama bowed out of a European summit and reports of bad chemistry between the two leaders.
"You invite an important head of state to a state dinner, but a friend you invite to your home," said one western diplomat.
The political fortunes of the two leaders could not be more different as they meet in Washington to compare notes on world problems, from global finance reform to the war in Afghanistan.
Sarkozy has fallen on hard times as his popularity sinks and his party reels from defeat in regional elections.
By contrast, Obama last week signed into law a reform bill that has become the centerpiece of his presidency, providing health coverage to 30 million Americans and the most far-reaching US social legislation in decades.
After earlier policy differences, the two leaders appeared to have come closer together on some key issues including the need to step up sanctions on Iran over its suspect nuclear program.
They also aim to work to unblock the stymied Middle East peace process, even Obama has been cool to the idea of an international conference proposed by Sarkozy.
Obama is also likely to press the French leader over Paris's commitment to the war in Afghanistan.
France is the fourth biggest contributor of Western troops helping the Afghan government fight against the Taliban-led insurgency, but Sarkozy has announced he will not send any more combat troops into the country.
Other contentions issues are likely to be raised in their talks, including Sarkozy's call to boost regulation of the finance industry.
Delivering some self-styled "home truths" to his hosts, the French leader used a visit to New York Monday to query the dollar's dominance and push for a tightening of economic regulations.
"There is no single country in the 21st century that can run the world alone," he chided the United States, and urged Washington to join Europe in "inventing the rules for the economy of tomorrow."
Sarkozy said he would discuss with Obama ways to stabilize commodities markets and to define "a new international monetary order."
"The dollar is not the only currency in the world," he said.
Another bone of contention to be discussed by the leaders is a huge US military contract to supply 179 tanker planes. France has accused Washington of protectionism by seeking to favor Boeing over Europe's Airbus.
Sarkozy has generally worked hard to rebuild ties with Washington, but his comments to Columbia University students on Monday recalled a more prickly past.
Reiterating traditional European skepticism of US economic free markets, he said: "We need the great American people to understand that the absence of rules kills liberty."
In New York, Sarkozy also met UN chief Ban Ki-moon and discussed Wednesday's planned aid conference on Haiti, international climate change talks and reform of the UN Security Council, where France is one of the five permanent members, the UN press office said.