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Obama hails alliance with France

US president Barack Obama said the United States and France have rebuilt a relationship that "would have been unimaginable even a decade ago", after then-president George W Bush launched an unpopular war against Iraq.

Mr Obama said the transformation stands as a testament to how Washington and Paris have worked to transform their alliance, as he and French president Francois Hollande worked to project a renewed relationship between their countries after hitting a low point more than a decade ago over France's staunch opposition to the American-led war in Iraq.

"Standing together and using our freedom to improve the lives of not only our citizens but people around the world is what makes France not only America's oldest ally, but also one of our closest allies," Mr Obama said alongside Mr Hollande from the White House.

Mr Obama also announced that he has accepted Mr Hollande's invitation to travel to France for the June 6 ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

The remarks came at a news conference in the midst of an official state visit, held as Mr Hollande is facing romantic upheaval that resulted in his showing up unaccompanied to the White House. The 59-year-old ended his relationship last month with girlfriend and French first lady Valerie Trierweiler after it was revealed that he was having an affair with an actress.

The White House has carefully avoided any mention of Mr Hollande's personal drama and has moved forward with a grand welcome reserved only for America's closest allies.

On a cold February morning, Mr Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and a military honour guard welcomed Mr Hollande as he arrived on the South Lawn of the White House. The two leaders shook hands before a cheering crowd, many waving American and French flags, and greeted two American military veterans who served in France during the Second World War.

"We stand here because of each other," Mr Obama said. "We owe our freedom to each other."

Mr Hollande, alternating between French and English, echoed those comments, saying: "Each of our countries knows what it owes to each other - its freedom."

Following the arrival ceremony, Mr Obama and Mr Hollande held a private meeting in the Oval Office before appearing before the press in the East Room. The Obamas planned to fete Mr Hollande at a grand state dinner on Tuesday night attended by more than 300 dignitaries and celebrities.

Mr Obama said the two leaders discussed international nuclear negotiations with Iran. The US and France, along with Britain, Germany, Russia and China, signed an interim agreement with Iran late last year that halts progress on the Islamic republic's nuclear programme in exchange for easing international sanctions. Talks on a final deal begin next week in Vienna, Austria.

The Obama administration has been irked by the intense interest French businesses have shown in Iran since the sanctions were eased. More than 100 French executives visited Tehran last week, a trip secretary of state John Kerry told his counterparts in Paris was "not helpful".

Mr Obama and Mr Hollande also reviewed international policy towards Syria, which has done little to jar Syrian president Bashar Assad from office or end the bloody civil war. An agreement to strip Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles is being carried out, though there are concerns on both sides of the Atlantic that Syria is stalling on its obligations. Peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces have gained no traction.


From Belfast Telegraph