French Leader Opens Unusual State Visit To US

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French President Francois Hollande arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on February 10, 2014 at the start of a three-day visit to the US. Hollande hopes to shore up business ties and revive France's stagnant economy. (credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

French President Francois Hollande arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on February 10, 2014 at the start of a three-day visit to the US. Hollande hopes to shore up business ties and revive France’s stagnant economy. (credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP/CBS) — An ocean away from his romantic troubles, French President Francois Hollande on Monday joined President Barack Obama for a tour of a picturesque estate built by a famed Francophile. The trip to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello marks the start of a state visit designed to showcase enduring U.S. ties with its oldest ally France, rather than the lack of a first lady accompanying Hollande on a formal occasion.

Obama and Hollande greeted each other at the steps of Air Force One, then boarded the plane for the short trip from Washington to Charlottesville, Va. The two leaders traveled on a smaller version of the presidential plane due to size restrictions at the Virginia airport, where they arrived on a chilly February afternoon.

The French president is traveling in the U.S. without a female companion, following his very public split with longtime partner Valerie Trierweiler. Their breakup has dominated headlines following a gossip magazine’s revelations about a secret tryst with a French actress. The last-minute change of plans created a tricky situation for American officials planning a high-profile event where diplomatic protocol and etiquette are in the spotlight.

Still, Hollande was receiving a warm welcome reserved only for America’s closest allies. His visit with Obama to Monticello was aimed at highlighting the long-standing ties between the U.S. and France. Jefferson, a Founding Father and former president, was also an early U.S. envoy to France and is honored with a statue on Paris’ Seine River. Monday marks the first time a sitting president has visited Monticello with a current foreign head of state.

“Monticello reflects Jefferson’s affection for the people of France, the long-standing relations between our two democracies, and the shared values we hold dear: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the White House said in announcing the visit.

In public appearances during the state visit, Obama and Hollande are expected to focus on areas where U.S.-French priorities are visibly in sync, such as in efforts to resolve nuclear concerns in Iran, a civil war in Syria and extremism in Africa. Mutual interests such as combating climate change and securing a trade deal between the U.S. and Europe will also be messages the two will seek to highlight.

“A decade ago, few would have imagined our two countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed,” Obama and Hollande wrote in a joint op-ed in the Washington Post and France’s Le Monde. “We are sovereign and independent nations that make our decisions based on our respective national interests. Yet we have been able to take our alliance to a new level because our interests and values are so closely aligned.”

The French opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Hollande’s state visit continues into Tuesday, when he’ll be greeted at the White House with trumpet fanfares and a 21-gun salute. Following his meetings with Obama, the leaders will hold a joint news conference, then don tuxedos for a state dinner feting Hollande.

Tuesday’s State of the Union dinner will also affect traffic in the D.C. region during the morning and evening hours the U.S.

Closed to the public from 2-11 a.m. and 5:30-11:15 pm
E Street, NW from 15th Street, NW to 17th Street NW
First Division Park and Sherman Park sidewalks
South fence line of the White House grounds

Closed to the public from 5-11 a.m. and 5:30-11:15 p.m.
The Ellipse (to include all sidewalks and roadways)

Closed to the public from 6-11 a.m. and 5:30-11:15 p.m.
The White House Sidewalk from East Executive Avenue, NW to West Executive Avenue, NW

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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