Leading article: Sarkozy l'Americain

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The Independent Online

What an extraordinary difference a few years can make in the relationship between two nations. Back in 2003 President Bush's attitude to the then French President, Jacques Chirac, was encapsulated in his petulant outburst: "He won't be invited to the ranch anytime soon". The message went out. French fries in the cafeterias of Capitol Hill were rechristened "freedom fries". Sales of French wine plunged. Right-wing talk-show hosts made dubious references to "cheese-eating surrender monkeys".

But now the froideur has melted. Nicolas Sarkozy is being welcomed on his first official visit to Washington like the reincarnation of the Marquis de Lafayette. The French President has been invited to address both houses of Congress. He will later accompany President Bush on a visit to the home of George Washington.

Of course, the overtures have been mutual. M. Sarkozy has spoken repeatedly of his admiration for America. He even holidayed in New Hampshire this summer, finding time to break hot dogs with President Bush at the Bush family's compound in Kennebunkport.

The big question is where it will all end. If M. Sarkozy carries on like this, he could be challenging Tony Blair for the position of America's favourite European. But our former Prime Minister can afford to relax. M. Sarkozy has at least three years in which to fall out with Washington. And considering the peculiar relationship between these two nations, who would bet against the next bust up coming before M. Sarkozy boards the plane for home? An extra portion of freedom fries all round!