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I can't choose between France and UK: Barack Obama

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 - 8:38am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Barack Obama

Barack Obama refused on Tuesday to say whether France had overtaken Britain as America's closest ally, pleading that he could no more pick between them than he could between his two daughters.

During a visit to the White House by Francois Hollande, the French president, Mr Obama dodged a reporter who asked whether Paris was "the best European ally of the US".

"I have two daughters," the US president said to laughter. "They are both gorgeous and wonderful, and I would never choose between them. And that's how I feel about my outstanding European partners. All of them are wonderful in their own ways."

The question spoke to British fears that the failure to back US calls for military strikes in Syria had damaged London's standing with the White House.

Mr Hollande said France had been "prepared to resort to force" alongside the US, but insisted: "We're not trying to be anyone's favourite."

Opinion polls show about 79 per cent of Americans hold a favourable view of Britain, compared with 59 per cent for France.

Mr Hollande's trip to Washington is the first state visit by a French president in nearly two decades and signals a significant thawing in Franco-American relations since the falling out over the Iraq war.

Mr Hollande was welcomed to the White House by a full honour guard standing to attention beneath a sea of French and American flags.

"Long live the United States. Long live France. Long live the Franco-American friendship," he said to applause from the crowd. His speech was delivered with a Gallic flair that contrasted with David Cameron's more reserved address during a White House visit in 2012.

"There were fewer awkward jokes than there were during the Cameron trip," said one White House aide.

Mr Hollande's visit was not without sensitive moments. Mr Obama warned French businesses considering working in Iran that the US would come down "like a ton of bricks" if they violated sanctions against Tehran. He also refused to grant France a "no-spy agreement" similar to the pact the US has with Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Mr Hollande was due last night to be feted at a state dinner of rib-eye steak and vegetables. It was not clear who would take the seat next to Mr Obama, the spot usually reserved for the spouse of a visiting leader, after Mr Hollande separated from his girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiler.

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