Obama Agrees to Visit Normandy for D-Day Anniversary

April 3, 2009 - 8:09 AM
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First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, Carla Bruni- Sarkozy and her husband French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Strasbourg, France, on Friday, April 3, 2009. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Strasbourg, France (AP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he and U.S. President Barack Obama will visit the beaches of Normandy in June to mark the anniversary of D-Day. Sarkozy announced the visit at a news conference after he and Obama spoke privately on the sidelines of a NATO gathering.
 
The two leaders were effusive in their praise for each other. Obama says he's personally grateful for Sarkozy's friendship, and called the French leader courageous. Sarkozy says France and the United States belong in the same family and says France must never forget what the U.S. has done for it.
 
On June 6, 1944, a 5,000-vessel armada landed at Normandy and unleashed some 156,000 soldiers, mostly Americans, British and Canadians, in a massive assault known as D-Day.
 
In a symbolic gesture, Sarkozy told Obama that France would accept a prisoner from Guantanamo Bay if that would facilitate the closing of the controversial detention center where terrorist suspects are held.
 
Saying that he was determined to "speak the truth," Sarkozy said that Guantanamo "was not in keeping with U.S. values."
 
Obama, who has pledged to close the facility, said the U.S. would need help in finding a place to send those held at the center.
 
"I made the decision to close Guantanamo because I don't think it makes America safer," Obama said.
 
The two leaders met ahead of the NATO summit in France and Germany.
 
Obama declared that the United States wants to be a partner, not a patron, of Europe as he reaffirmed NATO as a pillar of American foreign policy.
 
"NATO is the most successful alliance in modern history," Obama said. "And the basic premise of NATO was that Europe's security was the United States' security and vice versa."
 
Pivoting from one international gathering to another, Obama vaulted into another round of diplomacy Friday. He was meeting with European allies, holding a town hall on foreign land and pitching his strategy for Afghanistan.
 
On an overcast morning, the president and first lady Michelle Obama landed in France after two days in London. A short time later they were welcomed at the elegant Rohan Palace in central Strasbourg by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni.
 
Well-wishers gathered near the red carpet and shouted for the attention of Obama in his first big splash abroad as president.
 
Obama had emerged from a 20-nation economic crisis summit on Friday with a declaration that "I think we did OK." Now he was teaming up with the two leaders who gave him the most grief over his failed bid for more recession-fighting stimulus, Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obama was visiting both France and Germany on Friday ahead of an annual NATO summit being hosted by both countries.
 
Meanwhile, the White House was bracing for another gloomy jobs report on Friday.
 
Obama was first meeting with Sarkozy, then presiding over a town-hall style meeting at a sports arena. Then it's off to nearby Baden-Baden, Germany, for a meeting with Merkel.
 
"We expect that the discussion will review the outcomes of the G-20 summit, preview the NATO summit and discuss a number of issues of mutual interest," said Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
 
On Saturday, the president is back in Strasbourg for the NATO event, where the war in Afghanistan will command attention. Obama is pursuing a new strategy in the war and looking to NATO leaders to commit new combat forces and other help.
 
On the economy, Sarkozy and Merkel resisted Obama's efforts to persuade the Group of 20 industrial and developing nations at the London summit to go along with more stimulus spending to help create jobs and ease the worst economic downturn in a generation.
 
But Sarkozy didn't get what he wanted, either: tighter international regulation of financial institutions, including a global regulator empowered to swoop across borders to enforce international rules.
 
At one point, Sarkozy had threatened to walk out if he didn't get his way on international regulation. However, he relented after the summit partners agreed to go part way, bringing lightly regulated hedge funds and tax havens under more international scrutiny.
 
Sarkozy said he was happy with the outcome. Obama "helped me on tax havens," the French leader told reporters. "He's a very open man. It was completely in line with what we wanted."
 
Obama, asked at a news conference in London whether he was disappointed that he was unable to persuade other world leaders to go along with more stimulus, said: "I think we did OK."
 
At the NATO summit Saturday in Strasbourg, France plans to announce formally its reintegration into the military alliance's command structure after leaving it more than four decades ago. Sarkozy has said this would mean a return of France into "the Western family."