Here is the report from a French TV reporter for the White House press pool on the first meeting today in Washington between President Barack Obama and France’s newly elected president, François Hollande, ahead of the G8 meeting in Camp David tomorrow and NATO summit in Chicago on Sunday and Mondy. There is an interesting comment about the significance of the meeting to the French left:
President François Hollande gave a very long speech in the Oval Office around 12pm. He emphasized that, “It was the first time that [he] had met President Obama and stressed the importance of the relationship between France and the United States.”
He smiled a lot while the President made some jokes about Hollande eating American fast food in his youth and even more when President Obama invited him to taste a cheeseburger in Chicago.
After some jokes, President Hollande reiterated his views on the global economy: “growth should be the priority and Greece should stay in the Euro zone.”
Regarding Afghanistan, François Hollande was faithful to what he said during his campaign, saying that “French troops will withdraw by the end of this year.”
François Hollande briefly underscored “the importance and the convergence of views between the United States and France on sensitive issues such as Iran, Syria, and other Arabic countries.”
There was an interesting moment when President Hollande, not known to be bilingual, listened to the translation and politely corrected the translator for saying “Iraq” instead of “Iran.”
Francois Hollande emphasized at the end “how the United States and France have a strong relationship and greatly affect the world’s destiny.
The new French president was in the Oval Office with his new foreign minister, Laurent Fabius. Fabius was prime minister under François Mitterand and then later was among those in France who campaigned a few years ago against French ratification of the EU’s Constitutional Treaty. President Hollande was also with his new minister of finance, Pierre Moscovici. Moscovici was François Hollande’scampaign director. General Puga, chief of the military staff of the president, was there. French ambassador François Delattre was also there with the American ambassador based in Paris, Charles Rivkin. President Hollande was also with his dedicated senior political advisor, Aquilino Morelle, and his diplomatic advisor, Jean-Paul Ortiz.
For all of these men, seeing Barack Obama was an important moment in their lives. As an Elysée correspondent, Valérie Nataf, pointed out to your pooler, “Barack Obama is an important reference for the left side. His values are important for the President’s men.”
Christian Gravel, the young new director of communications for François Hollande, was also there, and his staff took a picture of the two presidents sitting together in the Oval Office.
At the end of the meeting, President Hollande like President Obama did not take any questions. However, with another big smile, he thanked President Obama for his extensive knowledge about his life (cheeseburgers and scooters), and he turned to the French journalists, telling them as they tried to ask questions, “No declaration on French fries.”
Below is the White House transcript of their remarks to the press:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA
AND PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE OF FRANCE
AFTER BILATERAL MEETING
12:35 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it is my great pleasure to welcome President Hollande to the United States, to the Oval Office, and this evening to Camp David.
We all watched the remarkable election, and I offered him hardy congratulations and assured him that the friendship and alliance between the United States and France is not only of extraordinary importance to me but is deeply valued by the American people.
I was interested, when I was reading the President’s biography, that he actually spent some time in the United States in his youth, studying American fast food — (laughter) — and although he decided to go into politics, we’ll be interested in his opinions of cheeseburgers in Chicago. (Laughter.)
I also warned him that now that he’s President, he can no longer ride a scooter in Paris. (Laughter.) I know because I’ve tried with the Secret Service and they don’t let me do it. (Laughter.)
Obviously we have had a lot to talk about. Much of our discussion centered on the situation in the eurozone. And President Hollande and I agree that this is an issue of extraordinary importance not only to the people of Europe, but also to the world economy. And we’re looking forward to a fruitful discussion later this evening and tomorrow with the other G8 leaders about how we can manage a responsible approach to fiscal consolidation that is coupled with a strong growth agenda.
We also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, in anticipation of our NATO meeting in Chicago on Saturday and Sunday. And we agreed that even as we transition out of a combat phase in Afghanistan that it’s important that we sustain our commitment to helping Afghans build security and continue down the path of development.
We also identified the issues of Iran and Syria, the transition that’s taking place in countries like Egypt and Tunisia as topics of critical importance. And we’ll be devoting extensive time to those issues throughout the G8 meeting. France has shown great leadership on these issues, and as I indicated to President Hollande, when the United States and France, along with our other key allies, make up our minds to stand firm on the side of democracy and freedom and development, that enormous progress can be made.
So I’m grateful to President Hollande for being willing to come here so shortly after his election and the formation of his government. He’s gotten off to a very strong start. And I hope that he will find my administration and the American people strong partners in delivering prosperity not only to the people of France but helping to provide peace and security throughout the world.
PRESIDENT HOLLANDE: (As interpreted.) I wanted my first visit outside Europe to be to the United States in order to meet President Obama. The Camp David G8 summit as well as the meeting in Chicago was an outstanding opportunity, and I would like to thank President Obama for taking that opportunity to allow us to have a long conversation together.
This is the first time that we meet, and not the last one; there will be many other opportunities for as long as possible. But it was important for me, on this occasion, to reaffirm the importance of the relationship between France and the United States.
Through history, we lived together some important events. We’ve had our differences, but we always manage to overcome them because of that strong link between our two countries. We also share some common causes — freedom, democracy. This is the reason why our history, our culture go back together a long way, and we managed to go through these differences when necessary and have these ties that mean that when France and the U.S. come together we can make progress.
I discussed the main topics with President Obama, including the economy and the fact that those must be a priority, at the same time as we put in place some fiscal compacts to improve our finances. And President Obama was able to acknowledge shared views so that we can progress.
I also — on the Greece — the eurozone situation, and our concerns regarding Greece, and we share the same views, the fact that Greece must stay in the eurozone and that all of us must do what we can to that effect. There will be elections in Greece and we wanted to send a message to that effect to the Greek people.
Our economies depend on one another. What happens in Europe has an impact on the U.S., and vice versa. So we are related, and the more coherent we are, the more efficient we can be.
We also discussed Afghanistan, and I reminded President Obama that I made a promise to the French people to the effect that our combat troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2012. That being said, we will continue to support Afghanistan in a different way, our support will take a different format, and all of that will be done in good understanding with our allies within ISAF. And so we will continue and comply with our commitment to that country, and supply and support, as I said, in a different way.
We will discuss that further in Chicago, and I’m pretty sure I will find the right means so that our allies can continue with their mission and at the same time I can comply to the promise I made to the French people.
And regarding Iran, we, again, noted that we share views and that we could start negotiations, but that being said, with the required firmness that Iran doesn’t get the nuclear military capability.
Regarding Syria and Arab Spring countries, we talked about the Deauville partnership, and here again I said that we would comply with our commitments.
What was important to say today is that, as to our responsibilities, France and the U.S. are countries that have an impact on the destiny of the world, but we are great in friendship, cohesion and partnership. France is an independent country and cares about its independence but in old friendship with the United States of America. So it is with that friendship and with that independence that we can be both the most efficient when it comes to dealing with the current challenges.
And I would like to thank President Obama for the knowledge he has of my life before I took office. I will say nothing against cheeseburgers, of course. And as to my own vehicle, the one I used to have until I took office, I hope that I will not have to use it — (laughter.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I just want to remember that cheeseburgers go very well with French fries. (Laughter.)
END 12:53 P.M. EDT