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French president begins US visit

During talks with Obama, Hollande to discuss Syria's civil war, Iran's nuclear programme and al-Qaeda threat in Africa.

Last updated: 10 Feb 2014 23:11
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Francois Hollande, France's president, has arrived in the US, joining with President Barack Obama for a tour of an estate built by Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father.

The trip to the famed Francophile's Monticello on Monday marked the start of a state visit designed to highlight enduring US ties with its oldest ally France, rather than the lack of a first lady accompanying Hollande on a formal occasion.

Obama and Hollande greeted each other at the steps of Air Force One, then boarded the jet for the short trip from Washington DC to Charlottesville, Virginia.

Hollande is travelling in the US without a female companion, following his very public split with longtime partner Valerie Trierweiler.

Their break-up has dominated headlines following a gossip magazine's revelations about a secret tryst with Julie Gayet, a French actress nearly 20 years his junior.

The Obamas will host on Tuesday night a state dinner for Hollande - an event that created protocol confusion as Hollande had initially been invited to attend with Trierweiler.

Hollande announced his separation after his affair with Gayet was revealed.

Nevertheless, he was receiving a warm welcome reserved only for America's closest allies.

White House statement

Jefferson, a former president, was also an early US envoy to France and is honoured with a statue on Paris's Seine River.

Monday marked the first time a sitting US president had visited Monticello with a current foreign head of state.

"Monticello reflects Jefferson's affection for the people of France, the long-standing relations between our two democracies, and the shared values we hold dear: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," the White House said in announcing the visit.

In public appearances during the state visit, Obama and Hollande are expected to focus on areas where US-French priorities are visibly in sync, such as in efforts to resolve nuclear concerns in Iran, a civil war in Syria and al-Qaeda threat in Africa.

Mutual interests such as combating climate change and securing a trade deal between the US and Europe will also be messages the two will seek to highlight.

Hollande's state visit continues into Tuesday, when he will be greeted at the White House with trumpet fanfares and a 21-gun salute.

Following his meetings with Obama, the leaders will hold a joint news conference.

Under pressure

Hollande's visit comes as opinion polls back in France show his approval rating is the lowest of any modern French leader. One survey last week found that fewer than one in five trust his leadership.

He is also under intense pressure to give a boost to his country's ailing economy and find ways to create jobs.

To that end, he will head from Washington to California to meet technology leaders in Silicon Valley.

The visit is Hollande's second to the US since taking office, after a meeting in the Oval Office with Obama during a G8 and NATO summit in April 2012, shortly after his election.

"A decade ago, few would have imagined our two countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed," Obama and Hollande wrote in a joint op-ed in the Washington Post and France's Le Monde.

"We are sovereign and independent nations that make our decisions based on our respective national interests. Yet we have been able to take our alliance to a new level because our interests and values are so closely aligned."

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