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Raw: Obama Welcomes French Pres. to White House

Raw: Obama Welcomes French Pres. to White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Tuesday the United State and France have rebuilt a relationship that "would have been unimaginable even a decade ago," after President George W. Bush launched an unpopular war against Iraq.

Obama says the transformation stands as a testament to how Washington and Paris have worked to transform their alliance, as the two leaders worked to project a renewed relationship between their countries after hitting a low point more than a decade ago over France's staunch opposition to the American-led war in Iraq.

"Standing together and using our freedom to improve the lives of not only our citizens but people around the world is what makes France not only America's oldest ally, but also one of our closest allies," Obama said alongside Hollande from the White House.

Obama also announced that he's accepted Hollande's invitation to travel to France for the June 6 ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

The remarks came at a news conference in the midst of an official state visit, held as Hollande is facing romantic upheaval that resulted in his showing up stag to the White House. The 59-year-old ended his relationship last month with girlfriend and French first lady Valerie Trierweiler after it was revealed that he was having an affair with an actress.

The White House has carefully avoided any mention of Hollande's personal drama and has moved forward with a grand welcome reserved only for America's closest allies.

On a cold February morning, Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and a military honor guard welcomed Hollande as he arrived on the South Lawn of the White House. The two leaders shook hands before a cheering crowd, many waving American and French flags, and greeted two American military veterans who served in France during World War II.

"We stand here because of each other," Obama said. "We owe our freedom to each other."

Hollande, alternating between French and English, echoed those comments, saying "Each of our countries knows what it owes to each other — its freedom."

Following the arrival ceremony, Obama and Hollande held a private meeting in the Oval Office before appearing before the press in the East Room. The Obamas planned to fete Hollande at a grand state dinner Tuesday night attended by more than 300 dignitaries and celebrities.

Obama said the two leaders discussed international nuclear negotiations with Iran. The U.S. and France, along with Britain, Germany, Russia and China, signed an interim agreement with Iran late last year that halts progress on the Islamic republic's nuclear program in exchange for easing international sanctions. Talks on a final deal begin next week in Vienna, Austria.

The Obama administration has been irked by the intense interest French businesses have shown in Iran since the sanctions were eased. More than 100 French executives visited Tehran last week, a trip Secretary of State John Kerry told his counterparts in Paris was "not helpful."

Obama and Hollande also reviewed international policy toward Syria, which has done little to jar Syrian President Bashar Assad from office or end the bloody civil war. An agreement to strip Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles is being carried out, though there are concerns on both sides of the Atlantic that Syria is stalling on its obligations. Peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces have gained no traction.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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