US rolls out red carpet for solo Hollande

White House draws veil over French president's personal troubles as he arrives to bolster ties and issues appeal with Obama on climate change

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 10:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 10:22am

White House officials are shrugging off French President Francois Hollande's personal turmoil as they prepare for a rare state visit to showcase the strength of US-French co-operation.

Hollande, 59, who recently broke up with his partner after an alleged affair with an actress, was due yesterday to arrive solo for two days of pomp and ceremony.

He asked France to respect his privacy, I assume he means the Americans too

The visit will include a high-profile trip to the Monticello estate in Virginia of former US president Thomas Jefferson, who was also a former ambassador to France. On the policy front, Hollande and Barack Obama issued a joint call yesterday for other nations to join them in seeking a deal to curb climate change.

Writing in an article in The Washington Post and Le Monde, the two leaders called for support "in pursuit of an ambitious and inclusive global agreement" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "through concrete actions" at a conference in Paris next year.

Co-operation on a host of global issues has resulted in France and the US enjoying a "model" relationship, the presidents wrote.

It will be the first state visit hosted by Obama in nearly 2 1/2 years, since South Korea's president visited in October 2011. It is also the first state visit to the US by a French president since Jacques Chirac in 1996.

Hollande's split with journalist Valerie Trierweiler, who was considered the French first lady, prompted some anxiety initially at the White House since both Hollande and Trierweiler were named on the official statement announcing the visit.

But White House officials quickly adjusted and are preparing to fete a solo Hollande at a state dinner tonight.

Officials looking for a previous similar experience needed only to look back to 2007, when then-President George W. Bush played host to his French counterpart at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, at an official dinner. Sarkozy had just split from his wife Cecilia.

"It shouldn't change anything and it won't," Anita McBride, who was chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, said of Hollande's visit. "He's asked the people of France to respect his privacy, and I assume he means for Americans to respect it too."

At a time when US ties with Europe have been tested by revelations of National Security Agency eavesdropping and, more recently, a US diplomat's secretly recorded expletive to dismiss the European Union, relations between the US and France have been productive. But this doesn't mean that Hollande is happy about the eavesdropping.

He told Time magazine that this is a "a difficult moment, not just between France and the United States but also between Europe and the United States" because of spying practices that "should never have existed".

The US and France are working together on Iran, Syria, North Africa and other global hot spots. The collaboration is a far cry from a decade ago when the US-led war on Iraq led to strains on the countries' ties.

The French refusal to participate prompted some angry Americans to rename French fries as "freedom fries".

Watch: Obama, Hollande renew historic bonds at Jefferson shrine

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse