Obama says he has no favourite between Britain and France
US president compares relations with allies to love for daughters during Hollande’s visit
French president Francois Hollande and US president Barack Obama both smile during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA
Mr Obama was speaking at a press conference with French president Francois Hollande during his three-day state visit to the US. He was asked whether France had overtaken Britain as the country’s top ally in Europe given their shared support on ending the war in Syria and Iran’s nuclear programme.
“I have two daughters, and they are both gorgeous and wonderful, and I would never choose between them,” Mr Obama said, to laughter from reporters in the White House’s East Room.
France was “not trying to be anyone’s favourite,” Mr Hollande said in response. “There are historic links – we share common values and I can see that our views converge on many issues, but it’s not about hierarchy; it’s just about being useful to the world.”
Mr Hollande’s state visit, only the sixth of Mr Obama’s presidency and the first by a French leader to the US in 18 years, comes amid recent strains in relations as leaks by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed sweeping US spying on French citizens.
“Mutual trust has been restored,” said Mr Hollande on the resolution of the differences between them on the electronic eavesdropping.
Mr Obama said there was no country where the US had a “no-spy agreement” when asked if the first state visit of his second term meant France would not be subject to US surveillance.
Speaking alongside Mr Hollande, the US president described Syria, against which the Americans and French were ready to launch a military strike last year, as a “crumbling” state and conceded that the United Nations was “far from achieving” the goal of returning the war-ravaged country to stability.
“There’s enormous frustration here,” Mr Obama said on the Syrian peace talks. “Right now we don’t think that there is a military solution per se to the problem, but the situation’s fluid.”
The two countries were exploring every option to end the conflict, he said. “It’s not just heart-breaking to see what’s happening to the Syrian people, it’s very dangerous for the region as a whole.”
Referring to French businessmen who had recently visited Iran about exploring potential opportunities in the country, Mr Obama said that the US would “come down on them like a ton of bricks” if they were found to have violated existing sanctions.
There were no references at the press conference to Mr Hollande’s very public recent split with his partner Valérie Trierweiler following his affair with French actress Julie Gayet, a subject the White House is keen to skirt over to avoid any embarrassment during the French president’s visit.
Mr Obama accepted an invite from Mr Hollande to visit Normandy for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6th.
The US president spoke only a few words in French during a welcome speech for Mr Hollande, saying that “bonjour” was “the extent of my French.”