WASHINGTON – President Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet this weekend at the coastal home of Bush's parents in the northeastern state of Maine, the White House said Wednesday.
Sarkozy is vacationing at an estate on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire about 50 miles (80 kilometers) away from Kennebunkport, Maine, where former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, own a seaside compound called Walker's Point.
The president arrives in Kennebunkport on Thursday, staying through the weekend for a wedding. The Bushes are having Sarkozy and his wife, Cecilia, to a private lunch on Saturday, presidential spokesman Tony Snow said. Laura Bush extended the invitation during meetings of world leaders in Germany in June, Snow said.
"The U.S. and France share the deepest of friendship," Snow said. "They've worked together since the founding of our nation to protect freedom around the world."
The Sarkozys have been staying at an estate on Lake Winnipesaukee owned by former Microsoft Corp. executive Michael Appe. The estate can be rented for $30,000 a week, according to a rental Web site.
France has been atwitter over Sarkozy's decision to take his first vacation as France's leader in the United States. Wolfeboro traces its history back to 1759 and claims to be the oldest summer resort in America. Questions have swirled about how much the visit cost and who was paying for it.
Snow said it was convenient.
"The president believes in building personal relationships with other heads of state," he said of Bush. "This fits into that pattern. I'm sure they'll talk about some international matters. But this is not a summit, this is not something with an agenda. The agenda is `Come by and let's visit.'"
The White House spokesman said Sarkozy's choice of relaxation venue was a wise one. "He certainly picked a good country to visit, didn't he?"
The White House has delighted at the prospect that Sarkozy's election could usher in improved U.S.-French ties after years of acrimony under his predecessors over the Iraq war and other differences. Sarkozy expressed fondness for the U.S. during his campaign and promised renewed ties with Washington.
Bush and Sarkozy had their first get-together on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit of industrialized democracies in Germany over two months ago. But that meeting ended up more subdued than planned — taking place in Bush's hotel room rather than a formal meeting room and not followed by the scheduled joint appearance before reporters — because Bush came down with a stomach bug.
The Bush family summer home had never been used for diplomacy under the current president until last month, when Russian President Vladimir Putin came for two days.
Politicians from France's opposition Socialist Party on Monday demanded to know who was footing the bill for Sarkozy's vacation.
Sarkozy told reporters earlier this week that some friends had rented the house and invited him.