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President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy depart a joint news conference at the White House.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
The United States and France have had their disagreements during the Obama era. As scholar Walter Russell Mead has pointed out, some of President Barack Obama's pronouncements have galled the Gallic pride of some in France who have seen the U.S. leader as being too willing to reduce France's role in the world.
At least some Gallic pride. Obama is generally popular in France although he has been less of a hit with the French president and other right-of-center Frenchmen and women.
But both Obama and Sarkozy took pains at a joint press conference to show how unified their nations are.
For Obama, it was a case of needing France's help on a range of issues from new sanctions on Iran to help in straightening out the Afghan security situation so the U.S. can eventually remove most of its military forces.
And because Obama may be the most popular American in France since Jerry Lewis, Sarkozy hopes to get some rub-off benefit from having Obama embrace him publicly.
That explained this little interchange Obama had with a reporter which ended with the president interjecting a little humor:
Reporter: Thank you, sir. Thank you for your patience. President Obama, you've talked about the importance of having consequences for Iran over its nuclear program, but is there ever a real deadline? What is your specific timeline for U.N. sanctions on Iran? And is it one that the American people can believe in?
REPORTER: I'm sorry, sir, I just wanted to ask President Sarkozy, you said yesterday in New York that the world needs an open America, an America that listens. I'm wondering if you can elaborate; specifically if you think President Obama is open to the world and is listening to you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me answer the second question, even though that was to Nicolas. I listen to Nicolas all the time. I can't stop listening to him. (Laughter.)
Before the joke, Obama spoke in a more serious vein about his working relationship with Sarkozy:
Under President Sarkozy's leadership, France has further secured its rightful place as a leader in Europe and around the world, recognizing that meeting global challenges requires global partnerships. France took the historic step of returning to NATO's military command, and we are working to revitalize our transatlantic bonds, including a strong, capable European Union, which the United States firmly supports -- because a close transatlantic partnership is critical to progress, whether it's applying our combined strength to promote development and confront violent extremism in Africa, or reconstruction in Haiti, or advancing peace from the Caucasus to the Middle East.
Mr. President, on behalf of the American people, I also want to thank you for your personal efforts to strengthen the partnership between our countries. We first met four years ago. I was a senator then; Nicolas was still running for President at the time, and I immediately came to admire your legendary energy --- and your enthusiasm for what our countries can achieve together. That was the spirit of your eloquent speech to Congress three years ago, which deeply moved many Americans.
Over the past year, the President and I have worked closely on numerous occasions. We respect one another and understand one another, and we share a belief that through bold yet pragmatic action, our generation can bend the arc of history toward justice and towards progress. And this shared commitment to solving problems allowed us to advance our common interests today.
For his part, Sarkozy worked hard to create the impression of a close working relationship with Obama filled with confidence and trust.
SARKOZY: I could even take you -- give you an example of something on which we don't necessarily agree, such as Syria -- or we didn't agree. France took an initiative, as you know. Well, I'll say this to you: At no point, no point, has President Obama turned his back on what we were doing. Constantly he's watching, he's listening. We're constantly exchanging information on the subject. Even when there are more complex topics, including in our relations with the Russians, before even we inform our Russian -- the Russians or our partners, I pick up the phone, I call President Obama, and he knows exactly what we're going to do and why we're going to do it. You follow me on that?
So, there may be disagreements, but never for the wrong reasons. And as we are very transparent on both sides, there's confidence, there's trust. And I really think I can say that. There's a lot of trust.
Now, trust always helps one overcome perhaps diverging interests. It may be that the United States of America has slightly different interests of those of France, but the bedrock of trust between us is something that he also has with all European leaders. And I don't say this to please you. I said this is true. And I took two examples of two topics that could, in other tide, other times, have led to head-on collision, and which in this case, on the contrary, are looked at on both sides of the Atlantic as a situation where we are complementary.
Perhaps he said, well, maybe on Syria, France is on the right track, and maybe one day we'll have the opportunity to do likewise, and that's exactly the way we work.