Obama to visit D-Day beaches on June 6: France

PARIS Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:55am EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will visit the World War Two D-Day beaches on June 6, a senior French official announced Thursday, denying press suggestions of strained relations between Washington and Paris.

Obama is traveling to eastern France for a NATO summit next week and French President Nicolas Sarkozy had hoped to take advantage of the trip for a lengthy bilateral meeting with the newly installed U.S. leader.

The White House rejected a French suggestion to squeeze in a visit to the Normandy beaches ahead of the summit, but Sarkozy's most senior aide said Obama had agreed to come back in June for the 65th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings.

"This will allow for a longer conversation and a more ambitious bilateral visit," Claude Gueant, the secretary general in Sarkozy's Elysee Palace, told France 24 television.

Some commentators have said Sarkozy was disappointed by Obama's apparent coolness to Paris since he took office in January, with very little direct contact established despite French efforts to set up meetings.

But Gueant denied any strains and said Sarkozy and Obama had talked for half an hour Wednesday to discuss the forthcoming G20 summit in London on the economic crisis.

"Relations between the presidents are excellent and very productive," he said. "Mr Sarkozy is not courting Mr. Obama."

U.S. presidents have regularly visited the Normandy coastline to pay their respect to the graves of the thousands of U.S. troops who died during the 1944 D-Day landings, which marked the start of the Allied liberation of Western Europe.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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