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French president Hollande on state visit to Washington proclaims strong alliance

French President Francois Hollande is on a three-day state visit to the United States to hold talks with President Barack Obama. The two leaders are going all out to show they are allies with common causes.

French President Francois Hollande began with a privilege reserved for state visits: a short flight onboard the Air Force One jet with President Barack Obama. They flew from Washington to the Virginia home of francophile US founding father Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.

Jefferson, the third US president, served from 1801 to 1809 and was one of the country's first diplomats in Paris. It was a trip designed to illustrate long-term ties between the two countries.

The scene for Hollande's visit was set in a joint article published in the Washington Post and France's Le Monde newspapers on Monday: "A decade ago, few would have imagined our two countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed," the two leaders wrote.

Talks between the two presidents on Tuesday are expected to focus on nuclear concerns in Iran, the civil war in Syria and instability in Africa together with combating climate change and securing a trade deal between the US and Europe.

In their op-ed article, the two leaders made special reference to Africa, saying that nowhere else was their partnership on more "vivid display," refering to joint efforts against political instability and insurgency in Mali, the Central African Republic, Senegal and Somalia.

Hollande is to be greeted at the White House with trumpet fanfares and a 21-gun salute on Tuesday before formal talks begin with Obama. After a joint news conference, there is to be a state dinner honoring Hollande in a marquee on the White House south lawn.

The much-reported split between Hollande and his long-term partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, meant social secretaries organising the dinner had to tear up invitations printed before the couple separated. The question of who will sit next to Obama during the evening has attracted considerable media interest.

Links with France, Germany

While links between the US and Germany have been marred in recent months by revelations of spying by the US National Security Agency (NSA) of Chancellor Angela Merkel's telephone, co-operation with France has been on a more even keel as Paris downplayed any reaction to surveillance of France.

But Hollande has not been invited to address Congress, unlike Merkel who spoke to a joint meeting of Congress during her visit in November 2009. Both House speaker John Boehner, whose office traditionally extends the invitation, and the White House insist this is merely the result of scheduling problems. They implied that Hollande's decision to visit Silicon Valley and meet with technology leaders on the final day of his visit left no time to schedule an appearance in Congress.

Hollande's approval rating is currently the lowest of any modern French leader and he is under pressure at home to find a way to boost the economy and job creation. His trip is the first full state visit by a French leader since 1996.

The visit is Hollande's second to the US since taking office. The French president met with Obama during a G8 and NATO summit in April 2012, shortly after his election.

jm/jr (AP, AFP)

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