Obama's talks with Hollande kicked off a frenetic four days of guns-and-butter diplomacy, starting with a Group of Eight industrialized nations meeting at Camp David and continuing through the NATO summit in Chicago.
Both Afghanistan and the economy are central to Obama's legacy—not to mention his hopes for re-election in November. And the back-to-back summits offer vital opportunities to get the United States and its closest allies in closer harmony.
White House officials have worriedly watched Europe's debt crisis, concerned that a recession there could infect the already-weak American economy. And the president has made a successful handover of security responsibility from NATO-led forces to their Afghan counterparts by the end of 2014 one of his signature foreign policy goals.
"Our economies are interdependent. What happens in Europe has consequences on the United States. And what happened in the United States had consequences for Europe," said Hollande. "The more coordinated our actions, the more effective we can be."
As the meeting began, Obama referred to Hollande's youthful adventures in the United States, which he traveled in 1974 on a grant from a business school. The future president of a country famed for its food studied McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, both unknown at the time in France. "I could have made a fortune in cheeseburgers, but I finally chose politics," he recently told the New York Times.
After offering Hollande a "hearty congratulations" on his election victory, Obama noted that his guest "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."
"I want to thank President Obama for his vast knowledge of my life before I became a politician. And I want to say nothing that might suggest that cheeseburgers might have any flaws," replied Hollande.
"I just want to remember that cheeseburgers go very well with French fries," joked Obama. "No declaration about French fries," Hollande said, in English.
That light banter recalled deep tensions between Paris and Washington in the run up the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a war France fiercely opposed. U.S. lawmakers at one time voted to change the name of "French fries" to "Freedom fries" in their cafeteria, while Air Force One served "Freedom toast." Neither food is known as "French" in France.
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