Published June 06, 2009
In the days leading up to Obama's stop in Normandy for the D-Day ceremony, rumors swirled that the Obamas had declined a dinner invitation from the French first couple -- leading some to suggest that it was a reflection of frosty U.S.-French relations.
The British press reported the supposed declined invite was payback to Sarkozy for failing to invite Queen Elizabeth to the D-Day ceremony and a sign of continuing tension between the United States and France.
"President Obama's reluctance to spend more than minimum time with the French leader on his visit for the D-Day anniversary has come as an embarrassment to the Elysee Palace," the Times of London reported.
But Obama insisted that his lack of personal time spent with Sarkozy was not a snub.
"What it means is that I have a very tough schedule," he said. "I would love nothing more than to have a leisurely week in Paris, stroll down the Seine, take my wife out to a nice meal, have a picnic. ... Those days are over, for the moment."
Obama said France and the United States remain close allies despite past differences.
"I think it's important to understand that good friends don't worry about the symbols and the conventions and the protocols," he said. "The United States is a critical friend and ally of France and vice versa. I personally consider Nicolas Sarkozy a friend. I think he feels the same way. And so, since I know I can always pick up the phone and talk to him, it's not necessary for me to spend huge amounts of time other than just getting business done when I'm here. "
Obama said that once he leaves office, he'll spend plenty of leisure time in France. But for now, it's all business, according to the president.
"When I take foreign trips, it's to get business done because I also have the economy where the unemployment rate is 9.4 percent," he said, referring to Friday's report showing the jobless rate had jumped to its highest level in more than 25 years.
"We still have to pass financial regulations that will prevent the type of crisis we've seen from happening again," he said. "That all requires lot of work, and so my travel schedule is always limited."
Sarkozy echoed Obama's sentiments, saying symbolic appearances for the leaders of the United States and France aren't what's important during the 65th anniversary of D-Day.
"Do you think our primary concern will be what glossy magazine we'll be pictured in or what restaurant we spend an evening in or whether we spend an extra evening here?" he asked. "Frankly, do you think people are just waiting to see us hand-in-hand staring into one another's eyes? Of course not."