Obama, Hollande Push Message Of Renewed Ties

Feb 11, 2014

In Washington, D.C. today, French President François Hollande joined President Obama for a press conference at the White House ahead of a state dinner scheduled for tonight.

The men are pushing a message of a renewed relationship between France and the U.S., one that faltered over a decade ago when France opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

NPR’s Scott Horsley joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with details on what the two presidents had to say.


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This is HERE AND NOW, from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

French President Francois Hollande joined President Obama for a press conference at the White House today. The two leaders are trying to stress the strength of the U.S.-French relationship more than 10 years after ties were strained over the Iraq War. Here to tell us more about what happened today is NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, who's with us from the White House. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Jeremy. Good to be with you.

HOBSON: Good to have you. And I know there were some talk about spying, climate change, even jokes about the tie choices of President Hollande. I assume that freedom fries did not come up.

HORSLEY: Freedom fries did not come up in the news conference today, although yesterday, in briefing reporters about their relationship, a senior administration official said, well, I think it's safe to say we're a long way from freedom fries - that, of course, a reference to the tensions a decade ago over the Iraq War. In fact, on the menu tonight for the state dinner, there's something called fingerling potato veloute. Is that how you say it?

HOBSON: I think so.

HORSLEY: So, a long way from freedom fries, indeed.

HOBSON: Well, I know Syria came up a number of times. President Obama was asked what tangible steps can be taken to resolve the conflict in Syria. Let's listen to his response.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now, we don't think that there's a military solution, per se, to the problem, but the situation's fluid. And we are continuing to explore every possible avenue to solve this problem, because it's not just heartbreaking to see what's happening to the Syrian people. It's very dangerous for the region as a whole.

HOBSON: Scott, are the U.S. and France on the same page on this issue?

HORSLEY: Well, I think they are, but they're on the same page of a very slow-moving novel, and that there was some frustration about that. You know, we're in a midst of a second round of negotiations in Geneva, and the question that prompted that response from the president, basically positive that this second round hadn't produced any real progress in Syria. And, of course, meanwhile, the humanitarian situation there is very serious.

HOBSON: Now, you got an opportunity to ask the president about the latest delay in the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, which affects some small-size businesses. What did he say was behind that delay, which we heard about yesterday for the first time?

HORSLEY: Well, he talked about this being just another opportunity to provide some flexibility to employers to try to smooth out the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. That's the position the administration has taken. Of course, the Republicans are complaining that mid-size companies here are getting break, but the individual mandate remains in place. Now, most observers would say, look, the individual mandate is what really motivates people to sign up, that the employer mandate is not that big a deal.

And certainly, the change that was made yesterday - announced yesterday affects a fairly small slice of employers. It's just those employers with more than 50, and fewer than a hundred workers. And that's a fairly small fraction of the U.S. workforce in that sort of mid-size range.

HOBSON: All right, I want to hear also about spying. I know that came up. A French reporter asked if President Obama would consider France its favorite European ally, and if it would - if the U.S. would agree not to spy on French leaders. Of course, we know that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was spied on by U.S. intelligence people. How did that go over?

HORSLEY: Yeah. Well, this was a classic curveball in what started out - he thought it was going to be a real softball question, is France your favorite European country, by virtue of being the first state dinner of the second term? And the president rather adroitly ducked that, saying, you know, I could no more choose between any of my European allies than I could choose between my two daughters.

But then the reporter sort of turned the shiv a little bit and said, and if we are, you know, among your most favorite countries, why don't we get the same no-spying deal you've given the British? Well, the president may have made more trouble for himself by saying, well, we don't actually have no-spying agreement with the British. We got capabilities where we can spy on everybody. But it's certainly working with Great Britain, France and other allies of whom we share values to rein in spying, both on the leaders and on the citizens of those countries.

HOBSON: NPR Scott Horsley, at the White House. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Jeremy.

HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.