Let's forget freedom fries, U.S. tells France
PARIS (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday hailed a new age of friendship with France following the election of pro-American Nicolas Sarkozy, and suggested that both sides had put the dark days of "freedom fries" behind them.
Relations between Paris and Washington hit a low point when President Jacques Chirac opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, prompting indignant Americans to give French fries a less Gallic name and boycott products such as French cheese.
Four years on, things look completely different.
Chirac's successor Sarkozy has called for closer ties with Washington, supporting U.S. President George W. Bush on core issues such as Iran, and the French leader is due to receive a warm reception when he visits the United States next week.
"The tide has really turned in this relationship," U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said in a speech to the American University of Paris entitled 'The U.S. and France: the renewal of an unfailing alliance'.
Sarkozy broke the ice with the U.S. public by going on holiday in the United States within months of his election victory this summer, meeting the Bush family for an informal lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers while he was there.
Days before he travels to Washington, where he is due to address Congress on November 7, French and U.S. officials have been saying it is time to put their differences behind them.
"We had a terrific disagreement in 2002-2003 over Iraq. It was a bitter disagreement, it was a dark and lamentable period in that relationship," Burns said.
"I surely hope those Americans who renamed French fries into freedom fries and then those Americans who poured perfectly good French wine down their drains, I hope they realize what foolishness that was."
ALLY AGAINST IRAN
That sentiment has been echoed by Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon who, like Burns, underlined last week the strength of France's relationship with the United States, stretching back over 200 years to the U.S. War of Independence.
"When a French head of state goes to the United States, it is a chance to reaffirm a friendship that is now more than two and a half centuries old," Martinon told a news conference.
"France and the United States have never been at war. They are an exception for each other, since France and the United States have gone to war with just about all the countries in the world."
Washington has found in Sarkozy one of its strongest allies in its bid to pressure Iran into abandoning uranium enrichment, a process that produces fuel for nuclear power plants but could potentially produce the payload for atom bombs.
"On the new relationship, I think it's exceptionally strong. We're working with the French government on the leading issues," Burns told reporters after his speech.
"France is one of our leading partners in the world today on Kosovo, on Iran, on Iraq, on Afghanistan, and there's been a real sea change in the relationship for the better."
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