Warm reception

In contrast to Jacques Chirac, his predecessor, Sarkozy has received a warm welcome in the US and his arrival at the House of Representatives was greeted by a standing ovation from members gathered for a joint meeting of congress.

As he spoke through a translator his speech, which consistently touched on his message of bilateral co-operation, was interrupted several times by applause.

It was a far cry from the tenure of Chirac who clashed publicly with George Bush, the US president, over the war in Iraq and saw Franco-American relations deteriorate.

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Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy expressed gratitude for the US role in liberating France from Nazi occupation in World War II.

"I want to tell you that whenever an American soldier falls somewhere in the world, I think of what the American army did for France," he said.

"I think of them, and I am sad, as one is sad to lose a member of one's family."

But amid the flattery, Sarkozy also urged the US to take a lead in key issues such as climate change.

"Those who love the country of wide open spaces, of national parks, and nature protected nature reserves, expect America to stand  alongside Europe in leading - I repeat - leading the fight against  global warming that threatens the destruction of our planet,"  he said.

Afghan support

Sarkozy also warned that the weakness of the US dollar and the undervalued Chinese yuan, could lead to "economic war".

The dollar has been weak against major currencies, including the euro, amid persistent concerns there could be more bad news from major banks on their exposure to the troubled US housing market.

Sarkozy held out an olive branch to Washington, backing the US administration’s tough stance on Iran's nuclear programme and promising to keep French troops in Afghanistan for as long as needed.

He was speaking a day after arriving in Washington for his first official visit since his election in May, and received an effusive welcome from Bush at an exclusive  reception.

Sarkozy is regarded as one of the most pro-US French leaders in many years.