News

Hollande visit reflects stronger U.S.-French ties

Hollande visit reflects stronger U.S.-French ties

FRENCH CONNECTION: U.S., French, and Washington, D.C. flags fly on a light pole across the street from the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 10, in anticipation of a state visit from French President Francois Hollande. Photo: Associated Press/Jacquelyn Martin

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – French President Francois Hollande starts a visit to the United States on Monday with spats over U.S. eavesdropping and trade talks with the EU unlikely to chill a relationship now far warmer than before the 2003 U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Hollande, 59, who split from his partner last month after an affair with an actress, arrives solo for the first state visit hosted by President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle in nearly 2-1/2 years.

The United States and France, whose alliance dates to the founding of America in the late 18th century, are working together on Iran, Syria, North Africa and other trouble spots.

The collaboration is a far cry from the strains of a decade ago when France refused to join the Iraq war.

“France is a solid ally of the United States but always retains its independence,” Hollande told Time magazine in an interview published last week.

He made clear that he shared European anger over National Security Agency practices that “should never have existed” and had caused “a difficult moment, not just between France and the United States but also between Europe and the United States”.

On Monday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said talks to resolve the spying issue were under way.

“There was behavior that wasn’t specifically targeted at France, but it was unacceptable,” he told RTL radio.

“So there are more talks, which are not finished, but gains have been made. The U.S., with checks in place, won’t be able to spy on the president and we’ll verify that this is the case.”

Washington’s relations with the European Union have also been ruffled by a U.S. diplomat’s secretly recorded expletive to disparage the EU’s handling of the political crisis in Ukraine.

The United States and France have cooperated in diplomacy on Syria and Iran, but do not always agree on economic issues such as a U.S.-EU trade deal on which negotiations began in July.

TAX-DODGING SUSPICIONS

France set down several preconditions before allowing the talks to start, insisting that the audio-visual sector, including cinema and books, be excluded from discussions.

French tax authorities have also put U.S. Internet giant Google under audit about accounting procedures which channel sales through Ireland. Google rejects suggestions that this is an attempt at tax-dodging.

Officials say Obama and Hollande have solid working ties.

“During the visit, they will discuss opportunities to further strengthen our shared security, grow our economic and commercial partnership, and partner on the environment, climate change, and development,” the White House said.

Obama will showcase the old U.S.-French alliance by taking Hollande on a tour of the Monticello estate of Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president, who had been ambassador to France from 1785 to 1789, acquiring a taste for fine wine.

Jefferson was one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence. Without French assistance, the fledgling American army might not have defeated the British colonial power.

On Tuesday, after an arrival ceremony on the White House lawn, Obama and Hollande hold talks and a news conference. Hollande will have lunch at the State Department with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Both leaders could use any glow from the visit to lift their popularity at home.

Hollande, struggling to reduce unemployment, fell to his lowest approval rating last week with only 19 percent according to a TNS Sofres-Sopra Group poll. Obama saw his rating drop to about 40 percent after the rocky rollout of his healthcare law, but it has rebounded slightly since.

(Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage in Paris; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

Recent Headlines

in Music

Ozzy Osbourne to undergo surgery

British musicians Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath, arrives at the Classic Rock Roll of Honour awards 2013 at the Camden Roundhouse in north London, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013.

Ozzy Osbourne has cancelled his upcoming Ozzfiesta event in Mexico to undergo surgery.

in Entertainment

Angelina Jolie crowned world’s top feminist icon

Angelina Jolie arrives at the 20th annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at the Hollywood Palladium on Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles.

Angelina Jolie and Emma Watson top the list of the world's foremost feminist icons.

in Entertainment, National

Celebrities protest new Indiana law

George Takei poses for a portrait at Quaker Good Energy Lodge with GenArt and the Collective , during the Sundance Film Festival, on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 in Park City, Utah.

Celebrities call for an Indiana boycott after the passing of a controversial law that could lead to discrimination against gay couples.

in Entertainment

REVIEW: ‘It Follows’ is the best American horror film in a decade

In this image released by Brigade Marketing, actress Maika Monroe appears in a scene of It Follows, directed by David Robert Mitchell. “It Follows,” has been arguably the buzziest American film at Cannes next to Bennett Miller’s wrestling drama “Foxcatcher,” which boasts a far more famous cast and a major premiere at the Palais des Festival.

"It Follows" is a horror movie worthy of classic comparisons.

in Trending, Viral Videos

TODAY’S MUST SEE: Billy Zane mistakenly thanks One Direction fans for support

Billy Zane arrives at the Global Green USA's 12th Annual Pre-Oscar Party at the Avalon Hollywood on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, in Los Angeles.

Actor Billy Zane pokes fun at the fact he shares a similar name to former One Direction member Zayn Malik in a new video.