President Bush heralded a “new era of transatlantic unity” when he arrived in France with the location of his speech as significant as its content. By choosing Paris for what White House officials described as “the centrepiece” of his week-long farewell trip to Europe, Mr Bush sought to put the seal on a dramatic transformation in relations with France since President Sarkozy was elected last year.
Britain, which for so long has acted as a sometimes rickety bridge across the Atlantic, no longer has such strategic diplomatic importance. President Bush is spending two nights in Paris, but only one in London tomorrow — when he will have a private dinner with Gordon Brown after seeing the Queen. Much of his trip to Britain will be devoted to the relatively parochial issue of Northern Ireland before he heads home.
While the Prime Minister has shied away from being seen as too close to the American President — the British Embassy in Washington, for instance, operating under strict orders to maintain a low profile — the French President has quite deliberately donned the mantle once worn by Tony Blair, defiantly — even triumphantly — talking up his love for all things American. Yesterday a US diplomat called Mr Sarkozy the “axis on which our relations with Europe will turn”, adding that his “penchant for action rather than reflection” suited Mr Bush’s own temperament.