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United States

French president honored at state dinner in Washington

French President Francois Hollande has been wined, dined and praised by his US counterpart at a state dinner at the White House. On the last day of his trip, Hollande is flying on to meet tech leaders in Silicon Valley.

President Barack Obama praised Hollande as a leader of "courage" at the dinner on Tuesday night in Washington. Traveling alone after a split with his long term partner, Hollande sat between Obama and Michelle Obama at the dinner held in a marquee on the lawn of the White House.

Raising a toast to his guest, Obama said "Vive La France, God bless America, and long live the alliance between our great nations."

Iran sanctions

Earlier, at the press conference on Tuesday, Obama said that the United States and France had agreed on sanctions against Iran.

"President Hollande and I agree on the need to continue enforcing existing sanctions even as we believe that new sanctions during these negotiations would endanger the possibility of a diplomatic solution," Obama said in the joint news conference with President Hollande. "And we remain absolutely united in our ultimate goal, which is preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama added.

Obama was asked by a US reporter about a large group of French firms including Total and Peugeot which toured Iran last week to test business opportunities should Western sanctions be lifted. He replied "They do so at their own peril right now. Because we will come down on them like a ton of bricks."

Hollande concurred but added he could not control the travel plans of French corporations.

Syria 'is crumbling'

The civil war in Syria also played a large role in the talks between the two leaders.

"We still have a horrendous situation on the ground in Syria," Obama said in the press conference.

"The state of Syria itself is crumbling," Obama added. "That is bad for Syria. It is bad for the region. It is bad for global national security."

Friendship how far?

A reporter from the conservative French daily Le Figaro asked whether France had replaced Great Britain as the best friend in Europe for the US.

Obama responded by saying: "I have two daughters, and 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."

Hollande said: "I have four children, so that makes it even more difficult for me to make any choice at all, but we're not trying to be anyone's favorites," Hollande said. "It's not about hierarchy," he added "It's just about being useful to the world."

Questioned on revelations by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the French president added: "Following the revelations that appeared due to Mr. Snowden, we clarified things, President Obama and myself," Hollande said, adding, "and then we endeavored toward cooperation."

Silicon Valley

On the third and final day of his trip, Hollande flies on to California. He is to meet with leaders of tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Mozilla in Silicon Valley. He is the first French president in thirty years to officially visit the state.

mkg,jm/dr (Reuters, AFP)

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