KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine (Reuters) -President George W. Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday stressed friendship over disagreement at a lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs at the Bush family estate aimed at improving relations strained by the Iraq war.
Bush called Sarkozy “a friend” while waiting with his wife, Laura, and parents to greet the French leader on the driveway of the family’s compound in this Maine resort town.
“We’ve got good relations with France, obviously there’s been disagreements,” Bush said.
“We have had disagreements, on Iraq in particular. But I’ve never allowed disagreements to not find other ways to work together,” he told reporters.
The United States hopes for improved ties with France under Sarkozy after relations chilled with his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Sarkozy, wearing blue jeans in keeping with the casual nature of the meeting, also stressed good relations. “Do we agree on everything? No,” he said. “Even within families there are disagreements, but we are still the same family.”
Sarkozy arrived at the Bush “Walker’s Point” estate from nearby New Hampshire, where he is on his first vacation since taking office in May.
The American holiday, which has drawn criticism in France, was briefly interrupted when Sarkozy flew home to attend the funeral of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger on Friday.
Sarkozy’s wife, Cecilia, called first lady Laura Bush on Saturday morning and said she and her children were not feeling well and would not attend the lunch. Sarkozy said when he returned from France he discovered they had sore throats.
“She’s a very dynamic woman, we were looking forward to seeing her as well as the children,” Bush said. “We fully understand.”
The invitation to the lunch was extended during the Group of Eight meeting in Germany in June, where Bush fell ill with a stomach ailment on the day of his bilateral meeting with Sarkozy. They still met, but in Bush’s private quarters.
Only one other foreign leader has been invited by Bush to his family’s Maine seaside compound — Russian President Vladimir Putin in July to try and soothe escalating tensions over U.S. missile defense plans in Europe.
The Russian leader was treated to a speedboat tour of the area before sitting down to a traditional lobster dinner.
The setting for the lunch — which also featured corn-on-the-cob, baked beans and fresh blueberry pie — was a cluster of dark brown buildings with tennis courts and a swimming pool on a point jutting over rocks, with boats and ducks bobbing nearby in the waves.
The French flag flew over the compound.
Bush, Sarkozy, and Bush’s father, former President George Bush, held a private meeting for about 50 minutes before lunch. Bush said they were to have a “heart-to-heart talk” about key issues, including Iran.
They took a boat ride before the French president left after a more than two-hour visit with the Bush family.
Bush usually invites foreign allies to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, to show a special relationship. The last head of state to visit the ranch was Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in August 2005.
Bush, who came to Maine to attend the wedding of a family friend, will continue his vacation at the Texas ranch starting on Monday.
Asked whether he would consider taking a vacation in France, Bush replied: “Absolutely. Particularly if he could find a place for me to ride my mountain bike.”
But Bush noted that he enjoyed going to his ranch. “I’m a Texan, I like my place down there, I like to go down there as much as I can. It’s where I can relax.”