boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Bush hosts Sarkozy at Maine compound

2 leaders work on US-France relationship

President Bush (left) and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy (center) took a boat ride yesterday near Goat Island in the waters off Kennebunkport, Maine. President Bush (left) and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy (center) took a boat ride yesterday near Goat Island in the waters off Kennebunkport, Maine. (BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- President Bush, using all the trappings of his family's oceanfront estate, worked on a cozier relationship with France and its new president yesterday.

Bush welcomed Nicolas Sarkozy, the French leader known for his fast-paced style who may also be this White House's last true chance for better relations between the two nations.

"He's bringing a good brain, good vision and good will," Bush said from his parents' compound.

Bush called Sarkozy a friend who could be counted on to speak frankly.

"We have had good disagreements on Iraq, in particular," Bush acknowledged about the frayed US-France partnership. "But I've never allowed disagreements to not find other ways to work together."

Sarkozy, visiting Bush for the first time as France's president, came with plenty of his own warm words. He focused on more than two centuries of united history between the countries, thanking the United States for sacrificing lives to help defend France in time of war.

"That is a lot more important than Mr. Sarkozy or Mr. Bush," he said. "Because after Mr. Bush and after Mr. Sarkozy, we'll continue to be friends of the Americans."

Outside the meeting, tourists, television crews and antiwar activists congregated at a checkpoint at Walker's Point.

As cars filled with visitors craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the Bush estate rolled by, activist Jamilla El-Shafei offered passengers a taste of "Iraqi freedom from occupation fries" from a red, oversize cardboard container.

Others among the 15 or so protesters offered fresh peaches which they dubbed "impeaches."

The effusiveness of the two leaders was intended to be a message to the world that diplomatic life is on the upswing for the United States and France. It comes in contrast to the bitter relationship with France's former president, Jacques Chirac, who clashed with Bush most notably over Iraq.

Sarkozy, too, acknowledged differences but downplayed them.

"Do we agree on everything? No," he said, an apparent reference to the divisive Iraq war. "Because maybe even within a family there are disagreements, but we are still a family. And we may be friends and not agree on everything, but we are friends."

Privately, Bush and Sarkozy met for about 50 minutes for what the American president called a "heart-to-heart" talk. The former president sat in on the session with them.

The topics included Iran, where Bush is seeking Sarkozy's aid in thwarting Iran's suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Other world hot spots, Darfur and Lebanon among them, were probably discussed, but the White House refused to divulge details.

The French president was treated to a true day in the life of the Bush experience.

There was the greeting of handshakes and hugs from two presidents, the current one and his father, President George H.W. Bush, who owns the Kennebunkport compound. They were joined by Bush's wife, Laura; his mother, Barbara; and other family members.

The Bush grandchildren made colorful signs to herald Sarkozy's arrival. Bush said it was an important signal to Sarkozy that he was invited to meet the whole family.

As if to pound home the point that the event was a casual one, the White House put no seafood entree on the menu in a region renowned for its lobster. Instead, the visiting president got American picnic fare of hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans, and fresh dessert. "If he feels like it, he can have him a piece of blueberry pie," Bush declared.

Sarkozy also got whisked away for a ride on a speed boat, with the former president at the helm and President Bush at his side. They soaked in a sparkling summer day in Maine.

But when a reporter asked if the president might speak a few words of French, as a gesture toward the US-French thaw, Bush replied, "No, I can't. I can barely speak English."

Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president looked forward to seeking Sarkozy next in September, at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Material from The Washington Post was used in this report.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES