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French leader's US visit to begin at Monticello


Presidents Barack Obama and Francois Hollande will honor the long friendship between Washington and Paris with a joint trip to Thomas Jefferson's estate Monticello on Monday as the French leader begins his US visit.

Hollande is hoping to leave the scandal over his split from long-time girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler behind, trading it in for military honors, a flight with Obama on Air Force One, and the pomp of a state dinner.

His trip, the first full state visit by a French leader since 1996, is expected to highlight the "excellent working relationship" between the United States and France, according to sources at the Elysee.

But the pair will also discuss issues that have bedeviled relations, including concerns over mass US spying in France.

Other issues on the agenda for Obama and Hollande's Oval Office talks on Tuesday include business ties, the war in Syria, Iran's nuclear program, Ukraine's political crisis and security concerns in Africa.

The leaders will hold a joint press conference at the White House after their discussions.

But the visit will begin with oodles of symbolism and goodwill: shortly after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, Hollande will head with Obama to Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Jefferson, the third US president who served from 1801-1809, was one of the founding fathers of the United States, and one of the country's first diplomats in Paris.

The tour of Monticello, located about 120 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of the US capital, will allow the two leaders to talk in an informal setting about US-French relations before their formal talks.

On Tuesday night, the Obamas will host a state dinner for Hollande -- an event that has created a bit of a protocol stir, as the French leader will be going it alone.

Hollande announced his separation from Trierweiler after revelations of an affair with Julie Gayet, an actress nearly 20 years his junior.

Ahead of their meetings, the two leaders issued a joint call for other nations to join them in seeking an "ambitious" agreement to curb climate change.

In a column published in the Washington Post and Le Monde, the presidents said their nations had overcome disagreements of the past, including over France's refusal to support the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq under president George W. Bush.

"A decade ago, few would have imagined our countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed," the presidents wrote.

"Alongside a revitalized alliance on the world stage, we're also working to deepen our bilateral economic relationship," they said.

Hollande, whose approval rating is the lowest of any modern French leader, is under intense pressure to give a boost to his country's ailing economy and find ways to create jobs.

To that end, he will head from Washington to California to meet with tech leaders in Silicon Valley.

The visit is Hollande's second to the United States since taking office, after a meeting in the Oval Office with Obama during a G8 and NATO summit in April 2012, shortly after his election.