“You and I share a commitment to deepen the co-operation of our two republics, and through this co-operation, we can make the world a better place.”
Often called “Sarko the American”, the French president is one of the most pro-US French leaders in decades.
In contrast to the last official US visit by a French president in 2001 when Jacques Chirac earned US consternation for hailing France as an antidote to American “hyperpower”, Sarkozy joked that one can “be a friend of America and win election in France!”.
Sarkozy, who frequently highlights “the historic friendship” between France and the US even though such sentiments are not seen as being popular in France, hailed US courage after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
He said: “On 9/11 terrorists thought that they had brought, or they could bring America to its knees.
“And I will tell you that, seen from the French perspective, never has America seemed so great, so proud, so admirable as on 9/11.”
The evening’s entertainment featured a performance celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French soldier and diplomat who played a key role in the American Revolution and was a friend of the first US president, George Washington.
A spokesman for the French leader said that as part of the visit Bush and Sarkozy would discuss “all the main international dossiers, whether regional crises or big strategic questions”.
France and the US are leading the campaign at the UN Security Council for a third round of sanctions on Iran, which they accuse of developing nuclear weapons.
The leaders are also expected to discuss their joint support of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia – a move that has drawn criticism from Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, who supports Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Charles Kupchan, US-European relations expert, said “there is an opportunity to put US-French relations on a footing that they haven’t been on since [Charles] De Gaulle took office decades ago”.
Sarkozy is scheduled to address a joint session of the US congress on Wednesday.