PARIS -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy gushed over Barack Obama on Friday when the two appeared together at the Elysee Palace, coming close, it seemed, to making an endorsement.
"But, obviously, one is interested in a candidate who's looking towards the future, rather than the past, and that's something that -- a concern that I share," said Sarkozy, capturing one of Obama's central themes. In March, rival John McCain visited with Sarkozy at the palace, but the French leader did not give him the honor of a joint appearance.
Obama spent about five hours in Paris, meeting with Sarkozy and then French and U.S. reporters who packed a press conference in a glass-ceilinged room. The beaming looks Sarkozy showered on Obama needed no interpretation.
Obama on Friday sprinted from Berlin to Paris to London, the last leg of an overseas swing that started July 17. Obama received an enthusiastic reception in Berlin, where about 200,000 flocked to the city center to hear a speech on trans-Atlantic unity and see one of the most charismatic political figures in the U.S.
Sarkozy and Obama -- both the sons of immigrants -- talked about the joint agenda they would pursue if Obama wins the White House in November, topped by climate change and beefing up allied troop strength in Afghanistan.
A French reporter asked Obama if he faced a backlash in the United States because of his popularity here. "So is it a good thing to be loved by the French in the United States?" the reporter said. Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee, was fluent in French -- but was reluctant to be heard speaking it for fear he would be portrayed as an elitist. But the 2008 contest is different, with Obama on track to pick up the Democratic nomination in August after a primary campaign that lasted more than a year centered on the themes of hope and change.
"And you have to know that here in Europe, here in France, we're watching with great interest what you're doing," said Sarkozy. Sarkozy stopped short of an endorsement but recalled that he is a pretty good handicapper when it comes to U.S. politics.
Back in 2006, while an aspiring presidential candidate, Sarkozy, then a French interior minister, visited Washington and met with just two senators: McCain and Obama, who hosted him in his Hart Senate Office Building suite.
Until then, Obama rarely drew attention to private meetings he would have with world leaders as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But when he decided to allow the photo op, he had returned weeks before from a multi-nation African trip which for the first time put him on a major world stage. Obama's team then regarded Sarkozy as a comer.
Sarkozy went on to become president, and Obama is well-positioned to take the White House. Sarkozy drew parallels between his own story and Obama's.
"Not everyone here is called Sarkozy, you know. And I'm aware of the fact that not everyone is called Obama in the United States of America. And that's a sense of -- gives us a sense of America of adventure. And Barack Obama's adventure is an adventure that rings true in the hearts and mind of the French and of Europeans."