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Mr. Sarkozy spoke without notes and often at great length — so long that Mr. Obama sometimes stood, unsmiling, clenching and unclenching his jaw.

But even before Mr. Sarkozy launched into his defense of his relationship with the U.S. president, Mr. Obama pre-empted him, offering an answer to a question posed to Mr. Sarkozy by a U.S. reporter. “Well, let me answer the second question, even though that was to Nicolas. I listen to Nicolas all the time. I can’t stop listening to him,” he said to laughter - and a brief smile from Mr. Sarkozy.

Unlike the Obamas in Paris, the Sarkozys accepted an invitation to dine in the White House, joining the first couple in the residence for a private dinner. And the two leaders, perhaps the hatchet finally buried, left the stage together, with Mr. Obama’s arm draped around the shoulder of his smiling French counterpart.

Joseph Curl can be reached at