France is our biggest ally, declares Obama: President's blow to Special Relationship with Britain
By Tim Shipman
Last updated at 3:02 PM on 11th January 2011
Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.
The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.
The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.
Offence: President Obama said France is America's greatest ally, which has caused anger in Britain
Mr Obama said: 'We don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people.'
The comments follow a pattern of coldness towards the UK. When Gordon Brown was prime minister, Mr Obama snubbed his requests for meetings in the U.S.
He also denounced Britain during his inauguration speech.
The UK has lost nearly 350 troops in the war against the Taliban – seven times as many as France.
And there are more than 10,000 British soldiers serving in Helmand province, compared with just 3,850 Frenchmen.Mr Obama's stance was swiftly condemned in Westminster.
OBAMA'S LINKS TO BRITAIN
Despite his stepmother Kezia making Bracknell in Berkshire her home, Barack Obama's perceived coldness towards the UK may stem from his family's history with the British.
According to his Kenyan family, Hussein Onyango Obama, Mr Obama’s paternal grandfather, was arrested and jailed for two years after working as a cook for a British army officer after the second world war.
They say he was tortured for information on the Kenyan independence movement.
Sarah Onyango, Hussein Onyango’s third wife and the woman Mr Obama is said to refer to as 'Granny Sarah', told reporters: 'The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed.'
In his memoir, Dreams From My Father, Mr Obama refers briefly to the imprisonment but states that his grandfather was 'found innocent' and held for 'more than six months'.
Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: 'I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like "best ally" so loosely.
'It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.
'That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.'
The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.
Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: 'Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.
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