US President George W. Bush and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy affirmed their countries' friendship on Saturday ahead of a casual lunch, a "heart-to-heart talk" and a brisk boat ride that could signal a new era of closer ties.
Both leaders stressed their common bond but acknowledged that they had their differences, following tensions between Bush and Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac which arose from differences over the Iraq war.
"For around 250 years France and the United States have been allies and friends," Sarkozy said as he arrived at Bush's family holiday compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.
"When we see, on the edge of the Atlantic, all the cemeteries with white crosses, those are the young Americans who came to die for us. That is more important than Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Bush," he said.
"So do we agree on everything? No. Because in a family we can have disagreements. But we are the same family, that is the truth," he said.
Bush described Sarkozy as "an ally" and promised the two would have "a heart-to-heart talk."
"Obviously there's been disagreements [with France], but just because you have disagreements doesn't mean you can't have good relations," Bush said.
"We'll be talking about a lot of key issues. The good thing about President Sarkozy is he tells you what he thinks. You know exactly where he stands. And I hope he'd say the same about me ... He's bringing good will," Bush said.
"This is a complicated world and there are a lot of opportunities to bring peace," Bush said.
"Absolutely we'll talk about Iran," Bush added, also noting that he appreciated France's role in helping broker the release of six foreign medics held in Libya for allegedly inflecting children with HIV.
"I appreciate very much the involvement of the French government helping to get the nurses out in Libya. I think we work well together," he said.
Sarkozy arrived from nearby Wolfeboro, New Hampshire where he and his wife have been spending their summer vacation.
Cecilia Sarkozy bowed out of the lunch, saying she and her children had throat ailments.
Neither leader offered comments after the lunch and their private talks.
Afterward Bush, together with his father and former US president George H.W. Bush, took the French leader for a half-hour boatride on the Atlantic just offshore.
While the two leaders' meeting was repeatedly billed as casual, earlier this week White House spokesman Tony Snow said it could mark the start of a "new era" in the US-France relationship.
Bush's National Security Council spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said on Thursday that in-depth discussion between Bush and Sarkozy of major issues will wait until an official meeting likely to take place "some time this fall."
Sarkozy has made clear he intends to strengthen ties with the US. After his election he declared that Americans can "count on the friendship" of the French.
According to a survey by polling company IFOP released on Saturday in France, 40 percent of French said they were happy with the current state of Franco-American relations.
Thirty-three percent hoped they would improve and 26 percent said they preferred that France take more of a distance from the US.