French President Nicolas Sarkozy is scheduled to arrive in Washington Tuesday, the first official visit to the United States by a French head of state since a disagreement about the Iraq war erupted between the countries in 2001.
The new French president is known to be pro-American and he says he wants a new relationship between France and America.
Critics and supporters of President Sarkozy call him "Sarko l'Americain," but that is a moniker the French leader says he is happy to wear. Sarkozy says he admires America's work ethic and its society, where everyone has a chance to make it to the top.
Improving Strained Relations
There has been a noticeable change in the tone of relations between Paris and Washington since Sarkozy was elected six months ago, and political analyst Nicole Bacharan says it is not just about a change of style.
Bacharan says, unlike former French President Jacques Chirac, who saw France as a counterweight to America, Sarkozy wants to work with the U.S.
"The real change of substance is a vision of France in the world," says Bacharan. "France should be a part of a multilateral alliance and work within this alliance. That's the point of view that Sarkozy has and is going to defend."
Sarkozy has hinted that France may reintegrate fully into NATO — 41 years after Charles de Gaulle withdrew from the alliance. France and the U.S. are now working together as never before on issues that include Afghanistan, Lebanon and particularly Iran.
Sarkozy even took a harder line toward Iran than the Bush administration, saying the world had to choose between an "Iranian bomb" and "bombing Iran."
The new French administration's change of attitude is remarkable, says Bernard Lecomte, a former editor with newspaper Le Figaro.
"For the first time, in France we have a president who is a militant for good Franco-American relations," says Lecomte. "There has always been this latent, irrational anti-Americanism within French society and the media, and that was only exacerbated by Bush. But now we have a president who says that's enough anti-Americanism."
While President Bush had a chilly relationship with Chirac, there is likely to be more chemistry with Sarkozy. Both presidents like to ride mountain bikes, are teetotalers and share a belief that tax cuts can generate economic growth.
But Sarkozy has his disagreements with the U.S. president. He is a critic of the war in Iraq and has takes a very different view of global warming.
At a recent climate conference with Nobel Prize winner Al Gore at his side, Sarkozy floated the idea of taxing imports from countries like the U.S., which have not signed the Kyoto protocol.
Jean-Marc Illouz, a former Washington correspondent with France 2 television, says Bush and Sarkozy might not agree on every issue, but that does not mean they cannot get along.
"The French president is a business lawyer. He wants to get things done; he wants to make deals," says Illouz. "President Sarkozy realizes that nothing can get done in the world today without the United States being in the loop and he knows it's no use to be at loggerheads with the United States."
In a park on the Seine River, Francoise Cattan walks her dog beneath a small copy of the ultimate symbol of Franco-American friendship — the Statue of Liberty.
"We are not enemies to the States. There is a lot between us," she says. "From the beginning, when the United States were created, French were there. And when we had war in Europe, you were there, too."
Sarkozy plans to pay tribute to more than two centuries of Franco-American friendship during his visit.
He will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Marquis de Lafayette at George Washington's Mount Vernon home in Fairfax County, Va. He will also decorate a group of U.S. veterans of World War II with France's highest award, the Legion d'honneur.