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New best friends? Hollande White House visit seals change in France-US relations

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Michelle Obama, François Hollande and Barack Obama at the White House dinner on Tuesday AFP/Brendan Smailowski

As has been widely remarked, François Hollande travelled to the US alone this week. If, for some reason or other, actress Julie Gayet had accompanied him, she could have told Barack Obama about her role in Quai d'Orsay, a film about France's opposition to the US's plan to invade Iraq. And marvelled at the difference with the current French president's relationship with Washington.


Eleven years ago, as Bertrand Tavernier's Quai d'Orsay recalls in a fictionalised version of events, France's then foreign affairs minister, Dominique de Villepin, delivered an elegant speech to the UN General Assembly opposing a call from the US's then president George Bush for international support for the invasion of Iraq.

The Americans were forced to go in without UN backing and the standing of France in the Arab and Islamic world soared.

Then president Jacques Chirac, already popular for getting into a row with Israeli soldiers on a visit to Jerusalem, reaped most of the benefit in the popularity stakes.

French journalists waiting in Jordan for the Iraqi frontier to open were greeted with cries of "Bush, shoes! Chirac on our heads!", referring to the Muslim habit of expressing contempt by acquainting its object with the dusty soles of one's shoes.

The reaction was very different in the US, where tabloids dubbed the French "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" and French fries became freedom fries in Congress cafeterias.