French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday urged the United States to champion global financial regulations to avoid future crises — and says Americans should pay more attention to the rest of the world.
Sarkozy, in a frank speech at Columbia University in New York, said the United States "should reflect about what it means to be the world's No. 1 power."
He says, "The world needs an open America, a generous America, an America that shows the way, an America that listens."
He urged Europe and the United States to create a new global financial system.
Sarkozy also said France would "remain at your side in Afghanistan." The French leader will carry a similar message to a White House meeting Tuesday with President Barack Obama.
Sarkozy's trip to New York and Washington this week provides him relief from his political troubles and sinking poll ratings at home, and a chance to bask in his international stature.
He meets Obama on an upswing, as the American president is coming off his biggest domestic and international feats so far in his presidency, health care reform and a new nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia.
The 200-year-old French-American friendship, including its ups and downs from the World Wars to the U.S.-led Iraq invasion, anchored Sarkozy's speech at Columbia on Monday. He was accompanied by French thinkers and university deans.
Columbia President Lee Bollinger introduced Sarkozy, and asked the audience to stand and offer first lady Carla Bruni "a special welcome." The audience obliged, getting up and giving her a round of applause, which she acnowledged by rising, turning toward the audience and smiling, elegantly clad in a simple black dress.
Hundreds of people had lined up more than two hours before Sarkozy's speech at the elite university's Low Library to pass through stringent airport-style security for the event.
The school was asked to stage was amounted to a media blitz, with more than 120 journalists from both sides of the Atlantic accredited to cover the speech.
Privately, a Columbia official said that compared to other visits to the school from world leaders, preparations for this one were among the most complicated and detailed. Requests included a special espresso-making machine ready to serve him coffee in an office reserved especially for him. The French also flew in their own podium for the president, but failed to install a rug they wanted to put in place for the speech.
Sarkozy meets later in the day with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, with the stalled Mideast peace process and Iran's nuclear program on the agenda. France has been among the loudest voices calling for a new round of sanctions against Iran for defying U.N. calls to suspend uranium enrichment.
Sarkozy and Obama want Mideast talks to resume, but some in the U.S. are worried that France's talk of hosting some kind of Mideast peace conference is premature.
With Obama fresh off his first presidential trip to Afghanistan, he is expected to ask Sarkozy for more French personnel to help shore up the Afghan police and military.
Sarkozy's room for maneuver is limited. France has 3,750 troops in Afghanistan and Sarkozy is determined to keep them there. But public support in France for the war is low — as is public support for Sarkozy, whose conservative party lost big in regional elections a week ago.
Sarkozy may press Obama for U.S. support on regulating hedge funds and complain about a Pentagon mid-air refueling tanker contract that has prompted European cries of protectionism. Airbus parent EADS says the request for bids favors rival Boeing Corp.
Sarkozy is eager to polish his international standing before he takes over the chairmanship of the G-20 and G-8 groups of leading world economies next year.
A poll released Sunday showed Sarkozy's domestic support at 30 percent, a record low for his not-quite-3-year-old presidency — and well below that of his low-profile prime minister, Francois Fillon.
Sarkozy's father and wife have hinted they don't think a second term is a good idea, but Fillon dismissed that and efforts to pit the two men against each other. "Nicolas Sarkozy is the natural candidate for the governing party in 2012," he is quoted as saying in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper. "I am and I will be loyal to Nicolas Sarkozy."
The Sarkozys join the Obamas for a private dinner in the White House on Tuesday.
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