WHITE HOUSE —
U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes France's President Francois Hollande to the White House Tuesday for the first state visit by a French president since 1996. Discussions will cover Iran nuclear negotiations, Syria, counter-terrorism efforts in Africa, trade, economic issues and climate change.
To underscore more than two centuries of close relations, Obama on Monday took President Hollande to Charlottesville, Virginia and Monticello, the 18th century mansion that was home to Thomas Jefferson.
France supported the original 13 American colonies in their independence war with Britain. Jefferson, the third U.S. president, was the principal drafter of the Declaration of Independence, and the second U.S. envoy to France, where he served from 1785 to 1789.
Obama said Monticello signifies the "incredible history" between the United States and France, and bonds that helped lead to the American Revolution and influenced the French Revolution.
"All this is signified here at Monticello and our hope in starting our visit this way is that just as we can extend back through generations to see the links between the United States and France, tomorrow we will have an opportunity to talk about not only our current bonds and alliance but ways we can strengthen our cooperation in the future," said Obama.
Obama said Monticello also represents the "complicated history" of the United States and "complex relations" Jefferson had with slavery. He said this as a reminder of the importance of continuing to fight for the rights of all peoples.
Hollande spoke about the bonds uniting the two countries and the importance of defending freedom, human dignity and human rights, and the strength of the alliance.
"We were allies in the time of Jefferson and Lafayette, we are indeed still allies today. We were friends in the time of Jefferson and Lafayette, and we will remain friends forever," said Hollande.
Leslie Greene Bowman, president and CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, was a guide for the two leaders, and spoke earlier with VOA.
"It's a great honor to us that President Obama has chosen the home of our most famous francophile and perhaps the place in America that best symbolizes the longstanding friendship between the United States and France," said Bowman.
On Tuesday, Hollande will receive the traditional ceremonial welcome on the White House South Lawn, before going into talks with Obama.
Later comes the glamorous State Dinner with a guest list of more than 300, including Washington officialdom and movie stars, and a musical performance by Mary J. Blige.
The White House was forced to re-print engraved invitations for the State Dinner after Hollande's announcement last month of his breakup with his former partner.
Senior U.S. administration officials said the visit underscores Obama's vision of "partners working together" on global issues. The officials cited nuclear negotiations with Iran, security challenges in Syria and North Africa, and U.S. support for French operations against Islamist fighters in Mali.
In a joint op-ed published in Le Monde and The Washington Post, Obama and Hollande spoke of a transformed alliance marked by expanded cooperation.
They cited cooperation in NATO, joint pressure to bring about the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, and steps to prevent al-Qaida from gaining new footholds in Africa.
Heather Conley, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the U.S.-French relationship has become increasingly important.
"Now we are talking about working together in Africa, working closely around the Iran negotiating table, talking about Syria, these are really the global hot spots of the day and the U.S.-French relationship, whether that is [in] the [U.N.] Security Council or the NATO table, is really becoming important," said Conley.
Also on the agenda in Tuesday's talks: U.S.-Europe economic growth and trade, including negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, strengthening the eurozone, and addressing climate change.
Later in the week, Hollande visits the San Francisco area, where he will meet with executives of Silicon Valley companies and entrepreneurs.
The French leader has invited Obama to visit France in June for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day commemoration in Normandy.
France also hosts a climate conference next year. Both leaders have said they are renewing their commitment to lead the world in combating climate change.