Can the US work with François Hollande?
The White House on Monday said that relations with France will be unaffected by the election of Socialist François Hollande as French president. Hollande is to meet President Barack Obama next week. Will he be welcomed with open arms or given a good talking-to?
“The alliance is as strong today as it was last week,” White House spokesperson Jay Carney said after Sunday’s defeat of right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
Obama “looks forward to working closely with Mr Hollande and his government on a range of shared economic and security challenges," Carney said in a statement.
But, given that many Americans believed that France was already a socialist country under Sarkozy, will the US’s rulers be alarmed by a man of the French left coming to power?
Obama got on well with Sarkozy even before either of them stood for president. They met in Washington in 2006, when the Frenchman was interior minister and the American a senator.
Obama, an American liberal, predicted that the French right-winger had a good chance of leading French in the future.
After he was proved right, Sarkozy returned the compliment, receiving Obama at the Elysée Palace and declaring that France would be “very happy” if he was elected.
The mutual backslapping was still going on just 10 days before this year’s French presidential poll, when Obama took part in a video conference with Sarkozy. The French incumbent seized the opportunity to invite a number of reporters along and told his US counterpart, “We will win, Mr Obama, you and me together.”
But some cloudy patches disrupted the idyll.
Sarkozy’s mandate ended on a positive note, so far as the US was concerned, with Paris and London leading the efforts to support Libyan rebels who unseated Moamer Kadhafi.
Obama will have occasion to meet Hollande several times before he himself faces reelection on 6 November:
Washington would probably like more information on Hollande’s policies on the Middle East, a subject that barely came up in the election campaign.
Sarkozy had promised to go to Israel and the Palestinian Territories and announce an unspecified “initiative” to make 2012 the “year of peace” in the region. All Hollande has committed himself to is a meeting with Israeli Labour Party leader Shelly Yacimovich, who at the time was expecting to contest early elections in September but will now have to wait till next year thanks to the formation of a new coalition government.
There are unlikely to be radical changes in French policy on Syria and Iran, two subjects close to the hearts of the US and Israel. Hollande in April said that France would take part in a military intervention in Syria, if the UN decided on one, and has called for the “greatest firmness” in relation to Tehran’s alleged plans to develop nuclear weapons.