Obama Welcomes New French President to White House

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Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: I am Aaron Schachter; this is The World. President Obama is hosting two big summits this weekend. First, he welcomes the leaders of the Group of Eight biggest industrialized nations to Camp David, then it's off to Chicago for a NATO summit. For now, Obama's focus is on the G8 and the economic crisis in Europe. The President wants European leaders to do more to stimulate growth as opposed to austerity. He has a new partner on that front — the just elected Socialist President of France, Francois Hollande. Sylvain Courage is covering the summit for the French news weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. He was at the White House today for the first meeting between Hollande and Obama. He says it was a little difficult to read the tea leaves.

Sylvain Courage: The arrival of Mr. Hollande was rather discreet. He was not welcomed at the door or on the porch of the White House. When the French journalists got to see them, they were already seated in the Oval Office and so we haven't really checked out how friendly the shake hands could be. It seems that their conversation has been very frank, very straight to the point and friendly. Well, they both said that the feeling was good. Even if there have been some disagreements on some points, at least Mr. Hollande stated that. So, well, I think it's what is called in diplomatic language — "a constructive meeting."

Schachter: Now, you mentioned they kind of snuck the French President in through the back door.

Courage: Yes. Well, we didn't get a very convincing explanation for that, but it seems that Mr. Obama is running for the second time and he doesn't want to be associated too closely to Mr. Hollande even if he finds him very sympathetic. He doesn't want to be associated with a left-wing leader, a European left-wing leader like Mr. Hollande because it's not very well seen and perceived by the American opinion. When you say that you're a socialist, here it has another meaning than the one we generally understand in France and so I think that this label would have been frightening for Mr. Obama. That's why, maybe, he wanted the meeting to be quite discreet and remote.

Schachter: Now, the main issue facing both of these Presidents is the economy, of course. Any news from today on how they intend to act; what France's expectation is of how the U.S. might help?

Courage: Well, they did mention the economics, of course, as the key element of their discussion especially the crisis in Greece, as you know, which is going on at the very moment. So, they were very clear to state that Greece had to remain in the Eurozone; both of the Presidents said that. They also agreed on the fact that Europe should try to find ways to increase growth in its economies because we are suffering not a recession but a slowdown in the economies. So, I think that President Obama backed Mr. Hollande's effort to find a growth project for Europe.

Schachter: Now the question everyone wants to know, of course, aside from this economic stuff is, do these two men get along? Will they be friends?

Courage: I didn't really hear your question very well but, yes, they get along all right, it seems. Well, it's only their first meeting but Mr. Hollande said that there would be several other meetings in the days to come and they seem to get along very well. The relationship will be very different compared to the one we saw developing between Mr. Obama and Mr. Sarkozy, the former French President because Mr. Hollande is less, maybe, familiar than Mr. Sarkozy so it's gonna be more formal. On the other hand, it might be more frank. It means that Mr. Hollande will put all the problems, all the subjects on the table and so this might be a good point for the cooperation between the two countries. Maybe the relationship will not be as familiar but maybe it will be deeper.

Schachter: Sylvain Courage of Le Nouvel Observateur in Washington, thank you so much.

Courage: Okay. Thank you very much.