- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

From combined dispatches

PARIS — France’s Nicolas Sarkozy held talks with outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday, the president-elect’s first diplomatic sortie since his weekend election win.

The two leaders greeted each other with smiles and warm handshakes before a meeting that was to focus on European Union and Group of Eight summits next month.

Mr. Blair, who met outgoing President Jacques Chirac earlier, shares common ground with Mr. Sarkozy on many issues, including moves to introduce a slimmed-down version of the EU constitutional treaty rejected by French voters in 2005.

“With Nicolas Sarkozy, you can anticipate the discussions will cover key forthcoming international meetings such as the EU, looking at the treaty, and obviously the G8, looking at climate change and follow-up to the Gleneagles agenda,” Mr. Blair’s spokesman told reporters.

Mr. Sarkozy, 52, is an admirer of the British leader, who will step down on June 27.

The two men say they get on well and Mr. Blair took the unusual step of welcoming Mr. Sarkozy’s election win on Sunday with a tribute in French and English posted on the YouTube Web site.

He said the right-winger’s success presented a “fantastic opportunity for Britain and France to work together in the years ahead.”

Mr. Sarkozy wants a less-ambitious treaty modernizing the EU’s institutions to be passed by parliament and has ruled out another referendum on the constitution.

“I don’t speak for Nicolas Sarkozy and obviously that’s something they will be discussing,” Mr. Blair’s spokesman said. The prime minister supported an amended treaty rather than a full-blown constitution, he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Mr. Sarkozy will meet next week after officially assuming his functions as president, has made reviving the charter a priority of her EU presidency.

Mr. Sarkozy has stressed his desire to overcome the lingering suspicions caused by France’s fierce opposition to the U.S.- and British-led war in Iraq and has made improving relations with Washington and London a priority.

In London, finance minister Gordon Brown, who is expected to succeed Mr. Blair as prime minister, pledged to learn from the mistakes of the Iraq war while honoring “our obligations to the Iraqi people.”

Mr. Brown, who faces no serious opposition after waiting more than a decade for his chance to lead the country, said there needed to be a stronger emphasis on political reconciliation and economic development in Iraq.

“And obviously we’ve got to do more to win the battle of hearts and minds against al Qaeda terrorism,” he said.

Mr. Blair, who announced he would resign June 27, officially endorsed Mr. Brown yesterday. As treasury chief, Mr. Brown is credited with much of Britain’s recent economic boom.

“I want to lead a government humble enough to know its place,” Mr. Brown said, pledging to win back voters disenchanted after a decade of Labor Party rule.

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