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Sarkozy to Visit US

French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads for Washington, Monday, for a visit expected to underscore the dramatic improvement in relations between the two countries in recent months. LIsa Bryant has more from Paris.

President Sarkozy is to dine with President Bush, Tuesday evening, and address the Congress, Wednesday. The two presidents will also hold talks in Mount Vernon, just outside the capital, which was the home of America's first president, George Washington.

The French leader's visit to the United States marks warmer bilateral ties. Under Mr. Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, the two countries divided sharply over the war in Iraq and issues. But, under Mr. Sarkozy, France has moved closer to the United States on issues like Iran's nuclear program. Mr. Sarkozy is also more pro-Israel than previous French presidents and he is an unabashed fan of the United States.

American University of Paris political science Professor Steven Ekovich says Mr. Sarkozy's style of governing marks another change.

"Nicolas Sarkozy is very American. His style is very American. His campaign style, his governing style and his personal style are more American than previous French presidents," he said.

Ekovich believes, under Mr. Sarkozy, France may assume the role of privileged American partner in Europe that Britain had under former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

But Christopher Chivvis, a transatlantic fellow at the French Institute for International Affairs in Paris, says that, although the tone of bilateral relations has changed, it is unclear about the substance. He believes one testing ground may be NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

"I think there's one key thing - even an obvious thing that Sarkozy could do to show that he is serious about supporting NATO and about supporting closer Franco-American and European relations - and that is to send more troops to Afghanistan," he said. "The NATO alliance is really up against a wall in Afghanistan."

Presidents Bush and Sarkozy are expected to discuss Afghanistan, among a host of other subjects. Later in the week, the U.S. president hosts another European leader - Angela Merkel of Germany, where relations with Washington have also improved.