Obama to France: Let's do more together

5:10 PM, Feb 11, 2014   |    comments
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U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and French President Francois Hollande shake hands after speaking to the media during a news conference in the East Room at the White House on February 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)



WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- President Obama welcomed France's Francois Hollande to the White House on Tuesday, marking the first time that the French have been honored with a state visit in nearly 20 years.

In remarks at a formal welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn, Obama reflected on the long ties between the U.S. and France, dating back to the American and French revolutions.

"It's no exaggeration that we stand here because of each other," said Obama, who took a moment in his remarks to recognize two U.S. World War II veterans who fought at Normandy who attended the ceremony. "We owe our freedom to each other."

While the U.S.-Franco relationship was strained over George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq, France has proven to be one of the United States' closest partners on national security matters over the last five years.

The two countries have helped lead the way in reaching an interim agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program through the P5+1 and have worked closely to end the three-year-old civil war in Syria. Even before Hollande began his presidency last year, the Obama administration coordinated closely with the French on Afghanistan and Libya.

France has also played a key role in dealing with security challenges in combating the rise of Islamic militants in places such as Mali and the Central African Republic, with airlift and other logistical support coming from the United States.

"Mr. President, like generations before us, we now have the task to not simply preserve our enduring alliance, but to make it new for our time," Obama said. "To our French friends, I say let's do even more together for the security that our citizens deserve, for the prosperity that they seek, and for the dignity of people around the world who seek what we declared two centuries ago - those unalienable rights, those sacred rights of men."

Poor polling numbers in France and problems with his love life loomed over Hollande as he arrived in the U.S. for the three-day visit, which started with a tour of Thomas Jefferson's estate at Monticello in Virginia on Monday and will conclude Wednesday with a side trip to San Francisco to meet tech executives.

Last month, Hollande announced that he has split with companion and France's first lady, Valérie Trierweiler. The split followed reports that Hollande had been having an affair with actress Julie Gayet.

In his remarks, Hollande focused on the challenges that lay ahead for the United States and France, including combating terrorism, removing chemical weapons in Syria, and reversing the scourge of global warming and climate change.

"Today we stand united and we have built a model of friendship, a friendship that is the best recipe for a better world," Hollande said.

Hollande, who is scheduled to visit Arlington National Cemetery, said that he would honor several American World War II veterans who helped liberate France from Nazi Germany with his country's medal of distinction. He will also present the award to the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington.

"I wish to demonstrate the fact that France will never forgot the spirit of sacrifice shown by these American soldiers, nameless heroes who left their homes to liberate my country and Europe," said Hollande, who invited Obama to come to France this summer to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landing.

Obama and Hollande were scheduled to hold meetings at the White House on Tuesday morning before a noon joint news conference.

Hollande will be honored with a luncheon at the State Department, and then honored on Tuesday night with state dinner at the White House.

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