Sarkozy all but backsObama for president

Sen. Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy staged a joint news conference Friday in Paris that was more like a romantic comedy, with Sarkozy's enthusiasm for the Democratic presidential candidate starkly evident amid many amusing moments.

The two men see eye to eye on most pressing global problems, Obama said, reiterating points he stressed earlier this week that Iran should freeze its nuclear program and the West must win the war in Afghanistan.

But it was the mood music more than the substantive points that was most striking.

Sarkozy called Obama “my dear” and said he'd work with any American president – but “I am especially happy to be meeting with the senator.”

In an effusive, rambling soliloquy, Sarkozy said twice that that “the French love the Americans,” and declared that “the adventure of Barack Obama, it is a story which speaks to the heart of French people and speaks to the heart of Europeans.”

Perhaps sensing that he was going over the top, the French president hastened to add that he recognized that “it's not up to French people to choose the next U.S. president.”

A reporter nonetheless asked Sarkozy if he was endorsing Obama – who half-jokingly said “I'm going to warn my dear friend President Sarkozy to be very careful about that … question” – and Sarkozy then said: “It's the Americans who will choose their president, not me.”

But he added in an implicit comparison of Obama with his rival, Republican Sen. John McCain: “Obviously, one is interested in a candidate that's looking toward the future rather than to the past.”

The news conference followed a private chat at the Elysee Palace. Both men emerged declaring “a great convergence of opinions,” as Sarkozy put it, on everything from Iran and Afghanistan to the Middle East and climate change.

Obama warned Iran directly about its nuclear program: “Change your behavior,” he said, “and you will be fully integrated into the international community with all of the benefits that go with that. Continue your nuclear program and the international community as a whole will ratchet up pressure with stronger and increased sanctions.”

On Afghanistan, Sarkozy echoed Obama: “We have not the right to lose,” the French president said. “We must not allow the Taliban to return.”

Sarkozy is a conservative who has emphasized strong transatlantic relations with the U.S. and been close to President Bush.

The Paris stop came as Obama wound down a tour that began with an official delegation to war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq and shifted to a campaign-funded visit to the Middle East and Western Europe.