July 26, 2008
3 Hours in Paris, and Smiles All Around
By JEFF ZELENY and STEVEN ERLANGER
PARIS — President Nicolas Sarkozy of France warmly embraced Senator Barack Obama at the Élysée Palace here on Friday, saying his presidential candidacy presents a bold moment to change the United States’ image around the world.
“The America that France loves is an America that’s farsighted, that has ambitions, great debates, strong personalities,” Mr. Sarkozy told reporters. “We need an America that is present, not absent.”
Mr. Obama breezed through Paris — spending barely three hours here — as he began to wrap up a weeklong trip intended to build his foreign policy credentials. He met privately for an hour with Mr. Sarkozy before the two appeared at an afternoon news conference, where they warned of the threats posed by Iran.
Mr. Obama said Iran should not wait for a new American president and should accept an international proposal now to stop enriching uranium. He said Iran posed “an extraordinarily grave situation” with dangers to Israel and the West.
Mr. Sarkozy, who first met both Mr. Obama, of Illinois, and his Republican rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona, in Washington nearly two years ago, was a genial host, amused by the local excitement surrounding Mr. Obama. The newspaper Le Monde published the speech Mr. Obama gave one night earlier in Berlin.
“The French love the Americans,” Mr. Sarkozy said with a grin, praising Mr. Obama, and added, “The French have been following him with passion.”
It was an unusual sight for a Democratic presidential candidate to be standing beside a French president. Four years ago, Senator John Kerry spent months fighting the impression that he looked “French,” or favored the European view of the world, and some Republicans created a caricature that probably hurt his candidacy.
A French reporter asked Mr. Obama if those concerns led him to keep his visit brief, saying, “Is it a good thing to be loved by the French in the United States?”
Mr. Obama spoke of no downsides, declaring, “I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want to spend more time in Paris.” He said Mr. Sarkozy was responsible for improving the image of France in Washington, noting that after Mr. Sarkozy’s visit in 2006, “people decided to call French fries French fries again in the cafeteria” at the Capitol.
At their news conference, Mr. Obama repeated the themes of his speech Thursday night in Berlin, saying that the United States wanted a strong Europe able to share in the collective defense; needed European help in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran; welcomed European help in the Middle East; and valued allied contributions in problems like terrorism, poverty and climate change.
Mr. Sarkozy said he would work with whomever became the next American leader, adding, “Of course it’s not up to the French to choose the next president of the United States of America.”
Mr. Sarkozy has met three times with Mr. McCain, including twice in Paris. But each time, Mr. McCain emerged from the Élysée Palace alone to answer questions. Not so for Mr. Obama.
Mr. McCain’s foreign policy positions are probably closer to Mr. Sarkozy’s, especially on Iran, Russia and the Middle East. But clearly Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Obama seemed comfortable together, smiling and joking on live television here and in the United States.
Without criticizing President Bush, whom he has hailed as a good friend, Mr. Sarkozy suggested that Mr. Obama would change the world’s view of the United States.
“If he is chosen, then France will be delighted,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “And if it’s somebody else, then France will be the friend of the United States of America.” For Mr. Obama, the stop in Paris seemed to be another hit in a carefully orchestrated international trip. But before he arrived, Mr. Obama called off a visit to wounded American troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, saying he did not want to politicize the visit.
Obama aides and the Pentagon offered conflicting explanations for the cancellation. The trip was approved by the Pentagon, but officials informed Mr. Obama’s aides this week that campaign staff members would not be allowed to attend because political events are not allowed at military bases.
“Senator Obama, like any other member of the Senate, is always welcome to visit our wounded warriors or our military hospitals around the world,” said Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman. “But they do so in their official capacity, and not as a candidate.”
The cancellation drew criticism from Mr. McCain, who through a spokesman said, “It is never inappropriate to visit our men and women in the military.”
Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, said the senator thought he could visit troops without causing a stir as he had done earlier this week in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that part of the trip was a taxpayer-financed Congressional delegation, while the Germany trip was paid for by the campaign.