When French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni meet with Barack and Michelle Obama on Tuesday at the White House, all eyes will be on the glamorous first ladies and the body language between the two leaders.
During their one-on-one meeting, the two Presidents are expected to discuss issues ranging from Iran to climate change to recent controversial Air Force refueling contract bid. Their relationship has gone through some very public ups and downs since they have both been in office.
Sarkozy was not shy in expressing his admiration for then-candidate Obama in July 2008, "The French love the Americans." Obama's campaign trip through Europe and the Middle East was his debut on the international stage. Obama left such an impression that Sarkozy wrapped up their joint appearance saying, "Good luck to Barack Obama, if he is chosen, then France will be delighted. If it is someone else, France will be the friend of the United States of America."
After Obama's victory, the relationship between two presidents seemed to get off to a strong start.
In a letter soon after the election, Sarkozy congratulated Obama for having won a hard-fought campaign, "It is also a crowning achievement of an exceptional campaign whose brilliance and high tone demonstrated the vitality of American democracy to the entire world, while keeping them spellbound."
Sarkozy greeted Obama warmly during the NATO summit in Strasbourg last April, his first trip to Europe as commander-in-chief. The U.S. president had nothing but praise for his counterpart at a joint news conference, "He's courageous on so many fronts, it's hard to keep up. And the energy that he has brought to foreign affairs is something that I think we've all benefited from." Sarkozy returned the compliment, "I appreciate his open-mindedness and his clear determination to build a new world."
Two months later when Obama returned to France in June to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, the relationship between the two presidents appeared to start to get a little shaky.
The Obamas made a stop in Paris for some sightseeing but turned down a dinner invitation by the French President, opting to dine alone. But Michelle Obama and their daughters did have lunch with the Sarkozys after the president bolted the City of Light.
The French press widely speculated that the pro-American Sarkozy was obsessed and enamored with Obama and was seeking one-on-one face time at various global forums.
Sarkozy then suggested that President Obama was naive in his address at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2009 when the U.S. president said "We must stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the goal of a world without them."
In front of more than 100 world leaders, the French president took a jab back at the leader of the free world, saying "President Obama has even said, 'I dream of a world without (nuclear weapons).' Yet before our very eyes, two countries are currently doing the exact opposite." Sarkozy was referring to Iran and North Korea as he continued, "We are living in a real world, not a virtual world."
Heather Conley Director of European program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies considers tomorrow's visit important for the US and France and overall US-European relations, "There are clouds on the bilateral and transatlantic horizon that bear watching."
The French leader does not see eye-to-eye with Obama on a host of issues. France opposes Turkey joining the EU, would like to see more aggressive efforts in combating global warming, and insists on tighter regulations on banks, executive compensation, hedge funds, credit default swaps and other financial transactions.
Earlier this year in a television interview, Sarkozy wondered why Obama had spent his first year devoted to health care, "I didn't see that that made things simpler." In another media outlet, he again let loose about the democrats losing three elections, the governorships in Virginia, New Jersey and the late Senator Edward Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts, "Obama has been in power for a year, and he has already lost three special elections. Me, I have won two legislative elections and the EU election. What can one say I've lost?"
Despite differences, Obama and Sarkozy have worked on areas of common concerns and interests. Both countries cooperated on the problem of pirates in seas around the horn of Africa. France is a NATO member that supports the re-engagement of the mission in Afghanistan; and the two countries are working together on passing sanctions against Iran.
However the meeting on bilateral relations goes between the two leaders, their wives will join them for a private dinner at the White House, something the Elysee Palace described as "a gesture of particular esteem." But what you can bet the press will be most interested in is what both fashion-conscious first ladies will be wearing.