Sunday, August 12, 2007

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — President Bush and recently elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday heralded their newly formed partnership during a visit by the French leader to the Bush family’s seaside vacation home.

“Obviously, there’s been disagreements, but just because you have disagreements doesn’t mean you can’t have good relations,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Sarkozy, in the U.S. for the first time as head of state, echoed Mr. Bush, saying that “even within a family there are still disagreements, but we are still a family.”

Disagreement, in fact, looked to be an afterthought as Mr. Bush warmly greeted Mr. Sarkozy, and the two men headed off for a private meeting, then lunch and boating.

Mr. Sarkozy’s visit, and also his determination to make it to the Bush family estate at Walker’s Point despite scheduling challenges, marks a new chapter in U.S.-French relations.

Former French President Jacques Chirac clashed often with Mr. Bush, especially over the Iraq war.

Mr. Sarkozy, said Mr. Bush, was “bringing good will.”

“This is a complicated world, and there are a lot of opportunities to bring peace,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush said he and Mr. Sarkozy would “absolutely” talk about Iran, which is thought to be pursuing nuclear weapons in defiance of the United Nations.

The president and first lady Laura Bush, along with Mr. Bush’s parents — former President George Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush — welcomed Mr. Sarkozy at the Bush estate in the cool air and bright sun.

Mr. Sarkozy arrived by himself in blue jeans and a sport coat, after making a trans-Atlantic flight from the U.S. to France on Thursday evening for a funeral and then back to the U.S. Friday evening to meet with Mr. Bush.

Mr. Sarkozy vacationed all week in New Hampshire with his wife, Cecilia, and children, who were scheduled to come to the lunch but canceled after falling ill with sore throats.

The president’s father called Mr. Sarkozy’s efforts to make it back from France “amazing,” and a few of the senior Mr. Bush’s grandchildren held hand-drawn signs welcoming Mr. Sarkozy with greetings such as “Bienvenue, Mr. President.”

The leaders, joined by the senior Mr. Bush, spent about 50 minutes together talking privately.

Mr. Sarkozy then joined several members of the Bushes’ extended family for a lunch of hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob and baked beans.

“If he feels like it he can have him a piece of blueberry pie,” Mr. Bush said before the lunch.

After the lunch, the senior Mr. Bush took his son and Mr. Sarkozy out for a spin on the ex-president’s boat, Fidelity III.

“This was a chance for Bush and Sarkozy to bond, something that especially means a lot to Bush, for whom interpersonal connections are key,” said Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Besides Iran, Mr. Bush and Mr. Sarkozy were set to discuss genocide in Sudan, political unrest in Lebanon, and Mr. Bush’s climate-change summit in Washington next month.

The American and French leaders are well-positioned to collaborate on the Middle East peace process and also share a similar outlook on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s growing animosity towards the West, said Simon Serfaty, a specialist on Europe at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. Sarkozy “is more skeptical about Putin,” Mr. Serfaty said. “He is more of a hard-liner about Moscow than Chirac was.”

“At the time when Bush himself is beginning to rethink ways in which he is dealing with Russia, this is an important meeting,” he said.

Mr. Bush also said yesterday that he has had recent “encouraging news from both Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Mr. Bush said that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is keeping the Taliban and al Qaeda on the run, and that in Iraq, the U.S. is “seizing the initiative from the enemy and handing it to the Iraqi people.”

“And Iraqis are responding,” said Mr. Bush, though he did acknowledge that political progress in the Iraqi parliament has been “slower than we had hoped.”

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