OMAHA BEACH, France — Nicolas Sarkozy certainly tried hard to please the American president when the two leaders met to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
The French leader pulled out the stops for President Barack Obama's visit to Normandy on Saturday, spilling with unusually generous praise for "the America that we love" and the U.S. veterans who fought for France's freedom from the Nazis.
Obama was grateful, but reserved. The men were friendly, but they didn't seem to create much of a spark _ at least in public.
"You think that people just want for us to be here together, holding hands?" Sarkozy quipped when the presidents were asked at a news conference whether the brevity of Obama's weekend visit to France reflected low U.S. esteem for Europe, coming after his trip to Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Obama papered over any suspected rifts, saying his time is always limited when he travels. Noting that the U.S. economy "requires a lot of work," he said he'd love to come and picnic in Paris' Luxembourg Gardens one day when he had more time. French commentators read that to mean when he's finished being president.
The meeting at the Prefecture of the Normandy city of Caen on Saturday was one not just of two men with starkly different characters, Sarkozy kinetic and sharp-tongued, Obama cool and measured.
It was also one of two countries with a sense of exceptionalism, two nations that think they have lessons to teach the world.
"All countries are proud of themselves. But not all countries necessarily have the idea that they have the right to explain to others what they should do. That's a characteristic of the United States and France that we share," said Laurence Nardon, researcher at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris.
"But we can't have two of us doing that. That's what explains this kind of reciprocal irritation and great reciprocal admiration... it is not a neutral relationship," Nardon said.
After their private talks in Caen, the two men tried to stress their partnership on several issues. They agree on Iran _ open to dialogue but firmly against Iran's refusal to suspend its nuclear program _ and on the Middle East, with both pushing for a two-state solution.
Overall, the French-U.S. relationship is a sturdy one. The two men showed Saturday that they have definitively moved beyond the clash over the Iraq war, which France fiercely opposed.
Sarkozy has taken important steps to improve France's stature with Washington. Earlier this year, he ended France's four-decade rift with NATO, bringing his country back into the alliance's military command structure, and France has accepted a former detainee at Guantanamo.
"President Sarkozy talks fast, so we can still do lots of things" even if the visit is brief, Obama said.
Sarkozy responded, "I talk fast, but he, he understands fast."
Associated Press writer Scott Sayare contributed to this report.