French state visit: Hatchet buried as Barack Obama welcomes François Hollande to Washington

Warm welcome for French President who has stood by America over intervention in the Syrian civil war, nuclear negotiations with Iran and on countering terrorism in north Africa

washington

The French President François Hollande formally embarked on a state visit to the US today that had been overshadowed by his fraught love life – but one which underscores how far relations between the two countries have advanced since the “freedom fries” era of a decade ago.

Back then, Paris was the embodiment of the “old Europe” mocked by the Bush administration when it opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Mr Hollande’s countrymen were derided as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” by sections of the American press, while French fries were renamed on the menus of Congressional restaurants.

Under President Obama, who welcomed his French counterpart to the White House amid much pomp and fanfare, almost everything has changed. France was Europe’s strongest advocate of Western intervention in the Syrian civil war, while Paris has supported a notably tough line in nuclear negotiations with Iran. The two have worked together closely on countering terrorism in north Africa.

Even the vulgar language used in a leaked phone conversation by the State Department’s top official for Europe over EU policy towards Ukraine has left France (unlike Germany) unruffled. Indeed the official – Victoria Nuland, – was attending both the dinner, as well as a lunch at the State Department.

Inevitably, not all is sweetness and light. The US was annoyed by the visit of over 100 French businessmen to Teheran soon after November’s interim nuclear deal. Mr Hollande was left high and dry when Mr Obama abruptly decided last September not to launch air strikes to punish the  Syrian regime for its apparent use of chemical weapons. But on this trip, any such edginess is being well hidden. “In recent years, our alliance has been transformed,” the two leaders wrote in a joint op-ed for The Washington Post and Le Monde.

On Monday, before the official portion of the visit, Mr Obama not only took the unusual step of personally welcoming Mr Hollande off his aircraft when it landed in Washington, but accompanied him on a visit to the Monticello estate in Virginia of Thomas Jefferson, the most famously Francophile of all US Presidents and reminder of France’s sentimental status as “America’s oldest ally.”

As Mr Obama welcomed his French counterpart to the White House, the easy personal relationship between the two was evident. “France and the US trust each other in an unprecedented manner,” Mr Hollande declared at a press conference –sidestepping last summer’s uproar over Edward Snowden’s revelations of US eavesdropping around the world.

Asked whether France had now supplanted Britain as Washington’s closest ally in Europe, Mr Obama did his own sidestepping, comparing the countries to his own two adored daughters. He could not choose between them: “both are wonderful in their own way”.

Both leaders promised to hold Iran to its commitments under the nuclear agreement, and enforce existing sanctions. Both demanded that Russia help hasten humanitarian relief to civilians in Syria, to alleviate what Mr Obama called the “horrendous” situation on the ground.

Throughout, the vicissitudes of Mr Hollande’s private life went unmentioned. But there was no concealing them at the dinner, which was to have been attended by his former partner Valérie Trierweiler. Beforehand, there was no confirmation of who would sit next to Mr Obama, in the place she would have occupied.

The menu itself made few gestures to the guest of honour: a resolutely American selection featuring home-produced caviar and steak and washed down with a selection of American wines.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£22,000 - £23,000: Beverley James: Are you looking for the opportunity to work...

Beverley James: Accounts Assistant

£30,000: Beverley James: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a person looki...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower