NEW YORK – The friendship between France and the United States will always prevail over the countries' political differences, French President Jacques Chirac (search) said Monday.
Chirac's comments, made during a visit to inaugurate a French school in New York, came as the two nations try to avoid another political showdown at the United Nations over Iraq.
While Chirac never mentioned Iraq (search), it clearly was on his mind.
"Events over the past few months have led to tension in relations between our countries. I want to share my personal conviction with all of you, however, that the friendship between France and the United States is deeply rooted in our history," he told several hundred parents, teachers, and French and American dignitaries.
"This friendship between our people will always prevail over our differences."
Chirac spoke ahead of a Tuesday meeting with President Bush (search) after Bush addresses the U.N. General Assembly.
During Monday's school tour, Chirac called the Lycee Francais of New York a symbol of the deep bonds uniting the two countries. Children from 44 countries are represented at the prestigious private school on the Upper East Side.
As he arrived, the school's choir sang "We speak French. All over New York, they speak French," from the song entitled, "French Toast."
Chirac was accompanied by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin (search), a former Lycee student.
Chirac's trip to the United States is the first in nearly two years. His last visit came just two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"I remember my meeting in Washington with President Bush, our common determination to respond to the attacks with an unprecedented mobilization against terrorism," he said.
Chirac noted that France was president of the Security Council when it authorized the use of force in Afghanistan.
There is much at stake for U.S.-French relations. Bush is trying to win U.N. backing for a resolution that would bring much-needed foreign reinforcements for U.S. troops in Iraq and give the U.N. more authority in rebuilding the country.
France, which led opposition to the war in Iraq, wants a quicker turnover of sovereignty to Iraqis. Chirac has called for a return to Iraqi rule within months.
U.S.-French relations are at a historic low, poisoned by France's decision to stand in the way of a U.N. Security Council resolution approving the war.