Politics

Obama, Francois Hollande laud strong ties

Leaders discuss mutual interests, tour Monticello

President Obama and French President Francois Hollande toured the grounds of Monticello, the home of famed Francophile Thomas Jefferson.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais /Associated Press
President Obama and French President Francois Hollande toured the grounds of Monticello, the home of famed Francophile Thomas Jefferson.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Celebrating the long-standing ties between their nations, President Obama and French President Francois Hollande on Monday toured the sweeping Virginia estate owned by Thomas Jefferson, the former American president and famed Francophile.

Obama’s rare out-of-town trip with a foreign leader opened two days of events marking Hollande’s state visit to the United States.

Standing together in Monticello’s grand foyer, Obama said the elegant home represents ‘‘the incredible bond and the incredible gifts that France gave us.’’

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Hollande is visiting Obama at a time of particularly strong relations between their nations.

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Their talks are expected to focus on areas where US-French priorities are visibly in sync, such as in efforts to resolve nuclear concerns in Iran, end a civil war in Syria, and curb extremism in Africa.

Mutual interests such as combating climate change and securing a trade deal between the United States and Europe will also be messages the two will seek to highlight.

Hollande’s visit continues into Tuesday, when he will be greeted at the White House with trumpet fanfares and a 21-gun salute.

He and Obama will visit Arlington National Cemetery, in part to mark the 70th anniversary year of the Allied landings in Normandy during World War II.

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The two leaders arrived in Charlottesville, Va., Monday afternoon after a short flight from Washington.

They traveled together in Obama’s armored limousine, which rode through the rolling hills toward Jefferson’s white and brick mansion.

As the two presidents — both wearing overcoats on a chilly February day — strolled along the estate’s portico, Obama declared, ‘‘This is a wonderful visit.’’

For Hollande, 59, the trip to Washington was a chance to get an ocean away from his romantic troubles.

The French president is traveling in the United States without a female companion, after his very public split with longtime partner Valerie Trierweiler.

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Their breakup has dominated headlines after a gossip magazine’s revelations about a secret tryst with a French actress, Julie Gayet. The last-minute change of plans created a tricky situation for American officials planning a high-profile event where diplomatic protocol and etiquette are in the spotlight.

The French president is traveling in the United States after his very public split with his longtime partner.

Still, Hollande was receiving a warm welcome reserved only for America’s closest allies. He arrived in Washington Monday and was greeted by Obama at the nearby military base where dignitaries are received.

The trip to Monticello was aimed at highlighting the deep ties between the United States and France. Jefferson, a Founding Father and former president, was also an early US envoy to France and is honored with a statue on Paris’s Seine River. Monday marked the first time a sitting president has visited Monticello with a current foreign head of state.

Obama and Hollande stood inside Jefferson’s private suite, which included his bed chamber and the antique book-filled office he used for reading and writing. The two leaders then toured Monticello’s kitchen, which was one of the best-equipped in Virginia during Jefferson’s lifetime.

After the tour, Obama said of Jefferson: ‘‘He was a Francophile through and through.’’

Hollande praised Jefferson’s unique role in United States and French history and said of the two countries, ‘‘We will remain friends forever.

Obama and Hollande wrote a joint op-ed article, which appeared in the Washington Post and France’s Le Monde.

‘‘A decade ago, few would have imagined our two countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed,’’ the presidents wrote. ‘‘We are sovereign and independent nations that make our decisions based on our respective national interests. Yet we have been able to take our alliance to a new level because our interests and values are so closely aligned.’’

The French opposed the US-led war in Iraq.

Obama and Hollande will don tuxedos Tuesday evening for a state dinner, which the French president will attend alone.