Obama hails ‘enduring alliance’ between US and France
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US President Barack Obama said at a press conference with his French counterpart Tuesday that the US and France had rebuilt a relationship that “would have been unimaginable even a decade ago,” after President Bush led an unpopular war against Iraq.
It was mostly all friendship and smiles as Obama and French President François Hollande emphasised their common values and united foreign policy in what is France’s first state visit to the US since 1996.
Obama praised Hollande as a courageous ally in the battle against extremism from Africa to Iran.
Obama, who made exiting foreign wars a cornerstone of his presidency, hailed France as a model ally willing to bear the collective burden of keeping the world safe.
“From Mali and the Central African Republic to Syria and Iran, you’ve shown courage and resolve,” Obama said.
Hollande proclaimed: “We stand together to combat terrorism, to respond to the threat of proliferating nuclear and chemical weapons, together to resolve the crises of the Middle East.”
There has been some tension between the US and its allies in Europe and elsewhere following revelations that their leaders had been subject to spying from the National Security Agency.
Obama said there is no country with which the United States has “a no-spy agreement.” But he said the United States endeavours to protect privacy rights as it collects foreign intelligence.
Hollande said he and Obama “clarified things” about the spying revelations and “mutual trust has been restored.”
“That mutual trust must be based on respect for each other’s country but also based on protection, protection of private life, of personal data, the fact that any individual, in spite of technological progress, can be sure that he’s not being spied on. These are principles that unite us,” Hollande said.
Syrian civil war
The United States and France have also been working to end the violent civil war in Syria, a former French colony. But peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces have gained no traction.
Obama acknowledged that Syrian peace talks are far from reaching their goal.
“There’s enormous frustration here,” he said of the negotiations.
When Obama threatened a military strike against Syria following a chemical weapons attack there last year, France was the only European ally ready to join that effort.
At the conference, Obama also said Washington had delivered a strong message to Russia regarding the well-being of Syrian civilians caught in the crossfire of the civil war.
“Secretary (of State John) Kerry and others have delivered a very direct message to the Russians that they cannot say they are concerned about the well-being of the Syrian people when there are starving civilians,” Obama said.
He added: “Right now we don’t think that there is a military solution per se to the problem but the situation is fluid and we are continuing to explore every possible avenue to solve this problem.”
Nuclear proliferation in Iran
The United States and France are among the countries that signed an interim nuclear agreement with Tehran. The agreement halts progress on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for easing international sanctions.
The one note of discord came when Obama was asked by a US reporter about a large group of French firms including Total and Peugeot which toured Iran last week to test business opportunities should Western sanctions be lifted.
“They do so at their own peril right now. Because we will come down on them like a ton of bricks,” Obama said, warning there would be no comprehensive lifting of sanctions until a final nuclear deal is reached with Iran.
Hollande agreed, but said he could not control the travel plans of French corporations.
Both leaders also raised the importance of a planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty between Europe and the United States.
Obama is facing stiff domestic opposition to the plan among fellow Democrats in a mid-term election year.
Hollande said that, with good faith, all sides could conclude the deal more quickly.
On Wednesday, he will continue touting French innovation and investment when he heads to California to meet tech leaders in Silicon Valley.
D-Day invasion memorial
Obama also announced that he has accepted Hollande’s invitation to travel to France for the June 6 ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
When Hollande arrived at the White House on Sunday, he was greeted by two American military veterans who served in France during World War II, further emphasising the historic links between the two countries.
“We stand here because of each other,” Obama said. “We owe our freedom to each other.”
Hollande, alternating between French and English, echoed those comments, saying “Each of our countries knows what it owes to each other: its freedom.”
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP and AFP)