French President Nicolas Sarkozy, addressing a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, has pledged to strengthen ties with the United States, saying Americans can count on France in the war on terrorism and extremism. VOA Correspondent Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where the French leader received a warm welcome from members of Congress.

In an address full of historical references to the founding of the United States, its culture and political, philosophical, and social values, President Sarkozy paid tribute to two centuries of friendship, saying that despite differences the two nations will stand together.

Mr. Sarkozy spoke in French but his words were translated simultaneously.

"In times of difficulty, in times of hardship, America and France have always stood side by side, they have always supported one another, they have helped one another, and each of us, America and France, have fought for each other's freedom," said President Sarkozy.

U.S. sacrifices for Europe, and its help with Europe's reconstruction after World War II cannot be forgotten, Sarkozy said, along with America's role in the Cold War.

"I remember the Berlin crisis and President Kennedy who unhesitatingly risked engaging the United States in the most destructive of wars so that Europe may preserve the freedom for which the American people had already sacrificed so much," said Mr. Sarkozy. "To forget that, for a man of my generation, would be tantamount to self-denial."

In recent years, relations between the U.S. and France have not always been cordial. The previous French president Jacques Chirac opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

President Sarkozy did not mention Iraq in his speech.

Turning to current challenges, he said France and the United States must stand together to defend and promote the values of freedom and democracy.

Referring to the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida attacks on the United States, he pledged that France will stand with the U.S. against terrorism.

"The terrorists had thought that they would weaken you, but they made you greater," he said. "And the people of America were admired worldwide for its courage. That is the truth. And from day one, France decided to participate shoulder to shoulder with you in the war in Afghanistan. And let me tell you solemnly today: France will remain engaged in Afghanistan as long as it takes, because what is at stake in that country is the future of our values and that of the Atlantic Alliance."

President Sarkozy also pledged France's support in nuclear nonproliferation efforts, reiterating his pledge to work against Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

"I say this as I stand before you: The prospect of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons is unacceptable for France," said Nicolas Sarkozy.

On the Middle East, President Sarkozy used his address to urge Israelis and Palestinians to work together for peace, saying the status quo risks delivering Palestinian society to extremists who want to set Islam against the West.

France and the United States, he said, must help the Lebanese people affirm their independence, sovereignty, freedom and democracy. Without mentioning Syria by name, he said France will not accept attempts to subjugate the Lebanese people.

President Sarkozy also repeated his call for Europe to assume more of the burden for its own security, adding that the European Union and NATO should be able to respond more effectively to crises.