US President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande toured Thomas Jefferson's plantation estate on Monday in a show of solidarity for Franco-American ties that have endured for more than two centuries, despite the occasional tempest.
The visit to Monticello, home to America's third president, served to showcase a relationship that stretches back to the founding of the United States in the late 18th century, an alliance still strong despite spats over US eavesdropping and trade talks with the European Union.
"The NSA scandal has left a very bitter residue in this relationship but there is also a sense of letting bygones be bygones,” FRANCE 24 international affairs editor Douglas Herbert reported from Washington DC.
“They are looking to what unites them – they’re finding common ground in a strong and steadfast relationship that goes back 200 years. It’s not for nothing that Obama took Hollande to Monticello – the home Jefferson, who was an avid Francophile and one of the earliest US envoys to France,” he said.
"Thomas Jefferson represents what's best in America, but as we see as we travel through his home, what he also represents is the incredible bond and the incredible gifts that France gave to the United States, because he was a Francophile through and through," Obama told reporters.
Obama said the house also represents the complicated history of the United States since "slaves helped to build this magnificent structure”.
"It's a reminder for both of us that we are in a continuous fight on behalf of the rights of all peoples," Obama said.
Hollande noted the significant role played by a French general, the Marquis de Lafayette, in helping George Washington defeat the British colonial power.
"We were allies in the time of Jefferson and Lafayette. We are still allies today. We were friends at the time of Jefferson and Lafayette and will remain friends forever," he said.
A long way from ‘freedom fries’
Today's collaboration is a far cry from the strains of a decade ago, when France refused to join the Iraq war.
One senior official (who wishes to remain anonymous) told Herbert: “We’ve come a long way since ‘freedom fries’”.
Hollande, 59, who is emerging from a damaging split from his partner, journalist Valérie Trierweiler, after an affair with an actress, arrived solo for the first state visit hosted by Obama since he won a second term in 2012.
The two leaders will get down to business on Tuesday with White House talks, covering topics such as Iran, Syria, restive North Africa and trade, followed by a joint news conference.
The US and France have cooperated in diplomacy on Syria, Iran, and the Islamist surge in northern Africa.
“The French have proved very useful for the counter-terrorism fight in Mali and the Central African Republic at a time when the Americans, along with Britain, don’t want to put boots on the ground,” Herbert said.
The countries do not always agree on economic issues however, such as a US-EU trade deal on which negotiations began in July.
France set several preconditions before allowing the talks to start, insisting that the audio-visual sector, including cinema and books, be excluded from discussions.
French tax authorities have also put US Internet giant Google under audit about accounting procedures that channel sales through Ireland. Google rejects suggestions that this is an attempt at tax-dodging.
Washington's relations with the European Union have also been ruffled by a US diplomat's secretly recorded expletive disparaging the EU's handling of the political crisis in Ukraine.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-02-11