President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande both hope to send the message that their two countries are operating from the same playbook regarding nuclear talks with Iran, intervention in Syria and greenhouse gas reduction during Hollande’s state visit in the U.S. beginning Monday.
Hollande is fighting slipping popularity at home, as tabloids run amok with tales of his alleged marital affair, and Obama is hoping to find a new European dance partner as relations with Germany over the National Security Agency’s spying program continue to deteriorate.
Senior administration officials, speaking with reporters on background during a press call to outline details of the visit, said the two countries have “come a long way from Freedom Fries” in a knock on U.S.-French relations during the Bush administration.
“We believe that the alliance and the partnership between the U.S. and France has really grown by leaps and bounds over the course of the last several years,” said one senior White House official. “When you look at the agenda between the United States and France today, as against 10 years ago, we have made significant progress, both in terms of our bilateral cooperation but also in terms of how we work together to deal with issues around the world.”
Obama and Hollande co-penned an op-ed that ran in The Washington Post and Le Monde Monday, highlighting examples of recent collaborations between the countries.
“Rooted in a friendship stretching back more than two centuries, our deepening partnership offers a model for international cooperation,” they wrote. “Transnational challenges cannot be met by any one nation alone. More nations must step forward and share the burden and costs of leadership. More nations must meet their responsibilities for upholding global security and peace and advancing freedom and human rights.”
The presidents specifically cited efforts to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons program, antiterrorism collaboration in Mali and the Central African Republic, support for international trade agreements and a shared focus on climate change as meaningful joint ventures.
Peter Gumbel, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and journalist living in Paris, says Hollande desperately needs a public relations win from his U.S. trip.
“France is very much trying to continue to play on the world stage; it’s struggling to define itself at a time when you’ve got China and Russia thriving and you’ve got Europe shrinking,” he says. “The state visit, it’s one way for Hollande to say, ‘We’re here, we’re important.’”
Gumbel says conversely, Obama needs to establish a strong relationship with Hollande to offset the growing chasm between the U.S. and Germany.
“The Germans are furious at the United States over the NSA spying,” he says. “In essence, the relationship between the United States and Germany has taken a nose dive and so it’s important for Obama to keep his hand in with somebody in Europe and if it's not the Germans then it's going to be the French.”Obama and Hollande visited Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello Monday, in a nod to the Francophile’s role in each country’s history. The White House is scheduled to honor Hollande with a state dinner Tuesday.