Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Solid friendship between Paris and Washington

'All that we can say is merci beaucoup,' US President Barack Obama likes to joke.
The President's limited French vocabulary notwithstanding, when he welcomes his French colleague Francois Hollande at the White House on Tuesday (11.02.2014), there will be a host of issues on the
Topics are expected to include how to boost the trade partnership as well as the fallout from the National Security Agency (NSA) spy scandal. But first and foremost, talks will revolve around 'the shining point in the US-French relationship: the development in the defense and security sphere, in particular the cooperation in Africa - first of all in Libya and then more recently in Mali and the Central African Republic,' according to Christopher Chivvis.

'I think that's something that both sides want to see strengthened,' the senior political scientist at the RAND corporation think-tank added.
French air strikes and special troops played a key role alongside the US in the 2011 toppling of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi. Last year, Paris launched air strikes on Islamists in Mali, and the US was pleased to see France drive Islamist rebels from the cities in the North African country. Instead of sending combat troops to Africa, the Americans helped out with experts and drones. 'It's very clear that when it comes to counterterrorism issues, France and the US see eye-to-eye,' Chivvis said. 'Very few other countries in the world, with the exception of the UK, probably feel as the Americans do about the terrorism threat.'
Headstrong France
That has not gone unnoticed in Africa. Last week, the Nigerian government appealed to the US and France, formerly a leading colonial power in the region, to take joint military action in southern Libya to oust the terrorist groups operating there.
'France has shown that it really is willing to take action and that's something that tends to impress US-policy-makers, including the people in the White House,' the expert on European security issues said.
But France's inclination to take action hasn't always benefitted the relationship. Ties soured when President Charles de Gaulle, concerned about the nuclear power's sovereignty, withdrew the French army from NATO's structure of command in 1966. Washington also regarded France's post-9/11 attitude as a fauxpas and when Jaques Chirac's government refused to join the US war in Iraq, angry Americans poured French Bordeaux wines into the gutters in protest.
However the low point in the relationship didn't last, Chivvis said. 'You had cooperation on counterterrorism and cooperation on Iran, and Sarkozy sent special forces to Afghanistan and normalized the relationship with NATO,' the US political analyst said. Compared with US-German relations, the US and France tend to be 'more or less on the same page' when it comes to economic issues, in particular the need for stimulus in Europe, he added.
Old friends
'France,' President Obama has said on many occasions, 'is not only our oldest ally, but also one of the closest.'
That became even clearer on Syria. The British government made it clear it would not participate in a military strike on Syria, but France stood by the US. The fact that the US and France appear to be growing closer together on security and key foreign policy issues is for all to see, Chivvis said. But when Secretary of State John Kerry publicly named France as its 'oldest ally,' Britain was alarmed.
'It's not surprising that there should be a little bit of unease in the UK, although I don't think that they should have really too much to worry about because in the end, it just all amounts to a stronger transatlantic relationship which is in everybody's interest,' Chivvis said.
What is not in everybody's interest is Washington's spying frenzy. Both German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande were shocked and demanded clarification. In a recent interview with Time magazine, Hollande spoke of a 'difficult moment not just between France and the United States, but also between Europe and the United States.'

Shared values
But Hollande also said 'there is no residue of bitterness between him and President Obama.'
That doesn't come as a surprise to RAND expert Chivvis, who points out the statesmen are on the same wavelength. They both come from the center-left, and the presidents' personalities are similar, too, he said. 'Sarkozy and Obama were really quiet different: Obama has a reputation for being 'No Drama-Obama,' and that certainly wasn't the case with President Sarkozy, but much more so with President Hollande.'
Obama plans to take his French guest on a tour of Monticello, the estate of Thomas Jefferson, the third US president. Monticello symbolizes the beginning of a long friendship: With the help of the French, the fledgling American army defeated the British colonial power. After the war, Jefferson, an avid supporter of the revolution and one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, served as ambassador to France.
Centuries later, Jefferson's successor Obama likes to quote the Declaration of Independence: 'We live by a common credo - Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happyness.' Just as effortlessly, Obama adds the motto of the French revolution, albeit with a distinct American accent: 'Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.'

Hot headlines in this Matter

Washington — The presidents of France and the United States issued a joint call Monday for other nations to join them in seeking an "ambitious" agreement to curb climate change.
Presidents Barack Obama and Francois Hollande, writing in an article in the Washington Post and Le Monde, called for support "in pursuit of an ambitious and inclusive global agreement" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "through concrete actions" at a climate conference in Paris in 2015.
Cooperation on a host of global issues -- which include the Syrian crisis, Iran's nuclear program, and security in Africa -- has resulted in France and the United States enjoying a "model" relationship, the presidents wrote.
The joint opinion piece comes as Hollande travels to the United States on Monday for a state visit.
"Rooted in a friendship stretching back more than two centuries, our deepening partnership offers a model for international cooperation," the presidents wrote.
"Transnational challenges cannot be met by any one nation alone. More nations must step forward and share the burden and costs of leadership."
Ties between the two countries have warmed considerably since chilling over France's refusal to support the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq under president George W. Bush.
"A decade ago, few would have imagined our countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed," the presidents wrote.
The two countries "have been able to take our alliance to a new level because our interests and values are so closely aligned," they said.
Regarding climate change, even as the United States and France "reduce our own carbon emissions, we can expand the clean energy partnerships that create jobs and move us toward low-carbon growth. We can do more to help developing countries shift to low-carbon energy as well, and deal with rising seas and more intense storms," they wrote.
Deeply unpopular at home and fresh from a much-publicised split with longtime girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler, Hollande will be hosted for a state dinner and talks with Obama before jetting to California to meet tech leaders.
Sources in the Elysee say the trip will highlight the "excellent working relationship" between the US and France, but Hollande will also raise a few "irritants", including concerns over mass US spying in Europe.
France has played a leading role in African security since Hollande took office in 2012, sending troops to fight Islamist rebels in Mali and to stem unrest in the Central African Republic.
But much of the focus is expected to be on economic questions.
Hollande, whose approval ratings are the lowest of any modern French leader, is under intense pressure to revitalise the French economy and reduce an unemployment rate that is at a 15-year high.
After a red-carpet welcome at Andrews Air Force base on Monday, Hollande will attend a state dinner with Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, which French officials said was to take place "as planned" despite Hollande's personal woes.
The invitation had initially been made to both Hollande and Trierweiler, but the president will be attending alone after his split with the de facto French First Lady last month.
Hollande announced his separation from Trierweiler after revelations of an affair with Julie Gayet, an actress nearly 20 years his junior.
On Tuesday Hollande and Obama hold official talks at the White House followed by a joint press conference.

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