- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2007

PARIS Au revoir, Jacques Chirac, and bonjour to a new U.S.-friendly French president who identifies with the American dream and happily affirms that the French like burgers, Madonna and Miami Vice.

To France’s “American friends,” Nicolas Sarkozy said in his victory speech: “I want to tell them that France will always be by their side when they need.”

He added, “I also want to tell them that friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions.”

But Mr. Sarkozy’s gaze in his first months in office will be directed more at home than across the Atlantic.

French voters didn’t elect the conservative because he promises a warmer new approach to the often-troubled-yet-also-deeply-rooted relationship between France and the United States. In fact, Mr. Sarkozy’s U.S.-friendly inclination was seen more as an electoral liability than as an advantage.

The new president’s priorities will be to get France’s sluggish economy and Europe’s stalled process of integration moving forward again.

With the exception of Europe a national obsession in France, which sees itself as a natural leader of the continent foreign affairs got scant attention in the long presidential campaign that was dominated by worries over jobs, the economy and how to compete against rising powers such as China.

That means not much is known about how Mr. Sarkozy will lead France on the world stage even though foreign affairs are a major part of his new job, an area where Mr. Chirac had considerable expertise and where he often seemed more at ease than with domestic issues.

As Mr. Chirac’s minister for the interior and, in 2004, for finance, Mr. Sarkozy worked with governments in Europe and Africa to combat illegal immigration and terrorism, represented France at the International Monetary Fund and irritated Berlin by protecting the French engineering giant Alstom SA from the advances of Germany rival Siemens AG.

But it is unknown how Mr. Sarkozy would cope in a major international crisis.

“He’s never done any serious, hands-on broad spectrum diplomacy,” notes Francois Heisbourg, a leading French foreign and strategic affairs analyst.

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