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Barack Obama greets solo Francois Hollande

Tuesday, 11 February 2014 - 9:06am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

Freedom fries off the menu as Obama greets solo Hollande

President Barack Obama is to roll out the diplomatic red carpet for Francois Hollande in a visible sign of improving Franco-US relations that hit a nadir over France's refusal to support the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"We've come a long way from 'freedom fries'," a senior Obama administration official observed yesterday (Monday) in a reference to the decision by Congress to rename French fries in its restaurant at the time.

He was speaking ahead of a visit that will lavish personal attention on the French president - including a ride on Air Force One and a state dinner.

Mr Hollande is in need of distraction from domestic tribulations that include his affair with a French actress and deep-seated economic problems.

The White House was forced to pulp hundreds of invitations to tonight's (Tuesday's) state dinner after Mr Hollande's break-up with Valerie Trierweiler, his long-term girlfriend, who escaped to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius last week, where she was photographed relaxing in the sun.

In a sign of White House determination to build relations with France, Mr Obama made a rare trip to Andrews Air Force base to welcome Mr Hollande before taking him on a trip to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, the third US president and renowned Francophile.

Officially, the two presidents will focus on the new positives in their relationship after France backed the US over its planned intervention in Syria last year and demonstrated a willingness to take a global role with its own interventions against terrorism in French Africa.

"A decade ago, few would have imagined our countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed," the presidents wrote in a jointly-signed article in The Washington Post.

Behind the scenes, however, there remain significant tensions. The White House is upset over France's foot-dragging on an EU-US trade deal while revelations that the National Security Agency had been spying on France continues to cause friction.

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