French leader opens unusual state visit to US

WASHINGTON — An ocean away from his romantic troubles, French President Francois Hollande arrived in the U.S on Monday, joining with President Barack Obama for a tour of a picturesque estate built by a famed Francophile. The trip to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello marks the start of a state visit designed to showcase enduring U.S. ties with its oldest ally France, rather than the lack of a first lady accompanying Hollande on a formal occasion.

A formal arrival ceremony, with trumpet fanfares and a 21-gun salute, awaits Hollande at the White House on Tuesday before meetings with Obama about Iran, Syria and shared economic interests. They’ll hold a joint news conference before donning tuxedos for a state dinner feting Hollande — a high honor reserved for the closest of allies.

But the French president arrived without a female companion, following his very public split with longtime partner Valerie Trierweiler. Their breakup has dominated headlines following a gossip magazine’s revelations about a secret tryst with a French actress. 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.

Hollande’s first major stop in the U.S. was to be Monticello, Jefferson’s residence near Charlottesville, Va. A Founding Father and former president, Jefferson was also an early U.S. envoy to France and is honored with a statue on Paris’ Seine River. Monday marks the first time a sitting president has visited Monticello with a current foreign head of state.

“Monticello reflects Jefferson’s affection for the people of France, the long-standing relations between our two democracies, and the shared values we hold dear: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the White House said in announcing the visit.

In public appearances during the state visit, Obama and Hollande are expected to focus on areas where U.S.-French priorities are visibly in sync, such as in efforts to resolve nuclear concerns in Iran, a civil war in Syria and extremism in Africa. Mutual interests such as combating climate change and securing a trade deal between the U.S. and Europe will also be messages the two will seek to highlight.

“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,” Obama and Hollande wrote in a joint op-ed in the Washington Post and France’s Le Monde. “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 U.S.-led war in Iraq.

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