- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2007

PARIS — France is asking whether Cecilia Sarkozy wants the job of first lady after she snubbed a lunch with President Bush during the weekend, claiming a “sore throat.”

“Cecilia set a new record for making a swift recovery,” said France Inter radio yesterday in an obvious dig at Mrs. Sarkozy, who was seen shopping with friends the day after Saturday’s barbecue at the Bush family retreat in Maine.

Tongues wagged after her husband, President Nicholas Sarkozy, arrived alone — and almost an hour late — for the hot dog and hamburger lunch Saturday.

Was the missing first lady the same Mrs. Sarkozy who flew to Libya to meet Col. Moammar Gadhafi weeks earlier to help secure the release of six medics accused of infecting children with HIV, and in doing so help secure French trade?

“With every day that passes, the mystery deepens: Who is Cecilia Sarkozy?” Le Telegramme said. “What does the wife of the president want? To live her life as she likes? In which case, why does she accept invitations, like that made personally by Laura Bush?”

Charente Libre, a regional daily, said: “People will no doubt accuse us of making too much of these absences. But, without doubt, we would have paid less attention to this American episode if it hadn’t been for the fact that Cecilia was so obviously prominent in Tripoli, at the request of her husband the president.”

Mr. Bush said he was “disappointed” but understanding after Mrs. Sarkozy, 49, called Mrs. Bush from the Sarkozy holiday home in nearby New Hampshire at the last minute to excuse herself.

It was not the first time she had turned protocol on its head: At her husband’s first Group of Eight summit in June, she left other first ladies midway through their main event, saying that she had to prepare a birthday party for her daughter.

The Elysee Palace, France’s White House, says her role will be become clearer by autumn.

Mr. Sarkozy reportedly said last month: “Ultimately, my only real worry is Cecilia.”

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