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Remarks Following a Meeting With President François Hollande of France

May 18, 2012

President Obama. Well, it is my great pleasure to welcome President Hollande to the United States, to the Oval Office, and this evening to Camp David.

We all watched the remarkable election, and I offered him hardy congratulations and assured him that the friendship and alliance between the United States and France is not only of extraordinary importance to me, but is deeply valued by the American people.

I was interested, when I was reading the President's biography, that he actually spent some time in the United States in his youth, studying American fast food. And although he decided to go into politics, we'll be interested in his opinions of cheeseburgers in Chicago. [Laughter]

I also warned him that now that he's President, he can no longer ride a scooter in Paris. I know because I've tried with the Secret Service, and they don't let me do it. [Laughter]

Obviously, we have had a lot to talk about. Much of our discussion centered on the situation in the euro zone. And President Hollande and I agree that this is an issue of extraordinary importance not only to the people of Europe, but also to the world economy. And we're looking forward to a fruitful discussion later this evening and tomorrow with the other G-8 leaders about how we can manage a responsible approach to fiscal consolidation that is coupled with a strong growth agenda.

We also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, in anticipation of our NATO meeting in Chicago on Saturday and Sunday. And we agreed that even as we transition out of a combat phase in Afghanistan that it's important that we sustain our commitment to helping Afghans build security and continue down the path of development.

We also identified the issues of Iran and Syria, the transition that's taking place in countries like Egypt and Tunisia as topics of critical importance. And we'll be devoting extensive time to those issues throughout the G-8 meeting.

France has shown great leadership on these issues. And as I indicated to President Hollande, when the United States and France, along with our other key allies, make up our minds to stand firm on the side of democracy and freedom and development, that enormous progress can be made.

So I'm grateful to President Hollande for being willing to come here so shortly after his election and the formation of his Government. He's gotten off to a very strong start. And I hope that he will find my administration and the American people strong partners in delivering prosperity not only to the people of France, but helping to provide peace and security throughout the world.

President Hollande. I wanted my first visit outside Europe to be to the United States in order to meet President Obama. The Camp David G-8 summit, as well as the meeting in Chicago, was an outstanding opportunity, and I would like to thank President Obama for taking that opportunity to allow us to have a long conversation together.

This is the first time that we meet and not the last one. There will be many other opportunities for as long as possible. But it was important for me, on this occasion, to reaffirm the importance of the relationship between France and the United States.

Through history, we lived together some important events. We've had our differences, but we always manage to overcome them because of that strong link between our two countries. We also share some common causes: freedom, democracy. This is the reason why our history, our culture go back together a long way. And we managed to go through these differences when necessary and have these ties that mean that when France and the U.S. come together, we can make progress.

I discussed the main topics with President Obama, including the economy and the fact that growth must be a priority at the same time as we put in place some fiscal compacts to improve our finances. And on growth, President Obama was able to acknowledge shared views, so that we can progress.

I also insisted on the Greece--the euro zone situation and our concerns regarding Greece. And we share the same views: the fact that Greece must stay in the euro zone and that all of us must do what we can to that effect. There will be elections in Greece, and we wanted to send a message to that effect to the Greek people.

Our economies depend on one another. What happens in Europe has an impact on the U.S. and vice versa. So we are related, and the more coherent we are, the more efficient we can be.

We also discussed Afghanistan, and I reminded President Obama that I made a promise to the French people to the effect that our combat troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2012. That being said, we will continue to support Afghanistan in a different way. Our support will take a different format, and all of that will be done in good understanding with our allies within ISAF. And so we will continue and comply with our commitment to that country and supply and support, as I said, in a different way.

We will discuss that further in Chicago. And I'm pretty sure that we will find the right means so that our allies can continue with their mission, and at the same time, I can comply to the promise I made to the French people.

[At this point, the interpreter mistranslated the remarks and was corrected by President Hollande.]

Interpreter. And regarding Iraq, again we found----

President Hollande. Iran.

Interpreter. Regarding Iran, we again noted that we share views and that we could start negotiations, but that being said, with the required firmness that Iran doesn't get the nuclear capability--military capability.

[President Hollande continued his remarks.]

President Hollande. Regarding Syria and Arab Spring countries, we talked about the Deauville Partnership. And here again, I said that we would comply with our commitments.

What was important to say today is that, as to our responsibilities, France and the U.S. are countries that have an impact on the destiny of the world, but we are great in friendship, cohesion, and partnership. France is an independent country and cares about its independence, but in all friendship with the United States of America. So it is with that friendship and with that independence that we can be both the most efficient when it comes to dealing with the current challenges.

And I would like to thank President Obama for the knowledge he has of my life before I took office. I will say nothing against cheeseburgers, of course. And as to my own vehicle, the one I used to have until I took office, I hope that I will not have to use it in a while. [Laughter]

President Obama. I just want to remember that cheeseburgers go very well with french fries. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 12:35 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. President Hollande spoke in French, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

Barack Obama, Remarks Following a Meeting With President François Hollande of France Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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