* New French leader says wanted growth at heart of debate
* Forges warm relationship with U.S.' Obama
* Russia's Medvedev: felt difference from his "colleague"
By John Irish and Elizabeth Pineau
CHICAGO May 20 New French president Francois
Hollande likes to style himself as "Mr. Normal," but his sudden
debut on the global stage this week has been anything but.
From the Oval Office to a meeting of G8 leaders at the Camp
David presidential retreat to the NATO summit in Chicago,
Hollande, a life-long party official who has never held a
ministerial post, sometimes looked as though he were trying the
role of international summiteer on for size.
Despite some awkwardness, Hollande appeared to pass his
initial diplomatic tests. He claimed victory after G8 leaders
backed his calls for more economic stimulus in Europe, and
forged an apparently jovial relationship with President Barack
"It was my first big international meeting and in the name
of France I had the objective to put growth at the heart of the
debate," Hollande told a news conference after the G8 meeting
"I think the G8 was fruitful and enabled us to send a twin
message. There will not be growth without confidence and there
will be no confidence without growth," he said.
The opening lines of the communique from the world's leading
industrial nations read: "Our imperative is to promote growth
That outcome allows Hollande to argue, before parliamentary
elections next month, that he honored a key campaign promise and
defended France's interests abroad.
The 57-year-old spent months during France's presidential
election pledging to push for a European pact to help boost
growth and jobs as way to balance German-driven austerity
He was visibly pleased on Saturday as Obama echoed his calls
to stimulate growth.
The talks at Camp David in Maryland were the first encounter
for most world leaders with Hollande, whose conciliatory,
understated manner is an abrupt departure from that of the
impulsive Nicolas Sarkozy.
"There is a sense that these new leaders, (Italian) Prime
Minister (Mario) Monti and now President Hollande, have gotten
off to a good start," said Obama's deputy national security
adviser Ben Rhodes. "And I think that was a big part of what was
accomplished at the G8."
Still, despite his promising start, Hollande faces major
challenges with France's allies.
He must figure out a way to transform pro-growth rhetoric
into concrete economic policies. In Chicago, he will have to
square his promise to withdraw French combat troops from
Afghanistan by year's end with pressure from other NATO nations
to stay the course until the overall mission finishes in 2014.
Following in Sarkozy's footsteps was expected to be a hard
act to follow, given how many global leaders admired the
conservative French president for his quick decision-making and
"I just met with the new President of France. He is of
course very different from my colleague Nicolas Sarkozy," said
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. "They are different
people, they represent different political forces, it was felt
during the discussion."
Dubbed "Sarko the American" in France for often aligning
himself with U.S. foreign policy, Washington supported Sarkozy
during the election campaign. In contrast, Hollande has made it
clear that although he will be a reliable ally, he will not
automatically side with the United States.
NOT ROCKING THE BOAT
During separate meetings with Obama and British Prime
Minister David Cameron on Friday Hollande tried to remain
diplomatic, using his cerebral, unpretentious manner and
distaste for confrontation to put his ideas across without
rocking the boat.
"There are deep links between France and the United States:
freedom, democracy, history and culture," Hollande said. "When
France and the United States agree the world moves forward."
At ease in Obama's company, Hollande exchanged jokes with
the American leader about cheeseburgers, French fries and
Hollande's recent habit of traveling around Paris on a scooter.
"Francois. We told you that you could take off the tie,"
Obama told Hollande as he arrived at Camp David for the G8
dinner on Friday evening.
With all the other leaders dressed down for the evening,
Hollande's arrival in a smart, tailored suit with a navy blue
silk tie seemed designed to make a good impression. He turned to
photographers smiling and said in English: "(It's) for my
Once he sat down for dinner to discuss issues from Iran to
Afghanistan, France's first Socialist leader in 17 years
appeared to have settled in a bit. His tie had gone.
Asked to qualify the Obama-Hollande relationship, Mike
Froman, a senior White House aide said:
"It's very good. Obviously they have been spending time here
together since last evening, and I think they are having very
good, open, frank and honest conversations."
For all the pleasantries, Hollande stuck to his guns on
perhaps the thorniest issue between the two leaders: reaffirming
that there was no negotiating the early exit of French "combat
troops" from Afghanistan.
But even then Hollande indicated the details of that
withdrawal would not be outlined at this NATO summit, a move
aimed perhaps at avoiding embarrassing Obama in his home town.