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Restoring a friendship Warming of relations with France reaffirms important ties for America

The official visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy is welcome evidence of the ongoing restoration of warm relations between the United States and France. The two nations have had a long-standing, if often prickly, relationship that dates back to the American Revolution, when France's decision to throw in with the colonists sealed the rebellion.

This is an important historic relationship that has need to rediscover its better angels and, indeed, was all but certain to do so. The ties, though severely strained by the war in Iraq, are too close. France had a crucial hand in our creation, and we had one in their salvation from Nazi brutality.

It took a couple of developments beyond inevitability for that rapprochement to occur now. One was the French election of Sarkozy, a conservative who believes, as President Bush does, that Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons. In that way and others, Sarkozy is far more like Bush than his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was.

The other was a growing American sense that the French were right all along, and we should never have invaded Iraq. Even with Sarkozy's election, France hasn't changed on that point. But America has, and that makes it easier for its citizens to take at face value the new French government's declaration of renewed friendship and respect.

Not that anyone will ever confuse Sarkozy -- or any other Frenchman, for that matter -- with Bush. Besides differing with the American president on Iraq, Sarkozy wants his country to be a leader in the international movement on global warming, while Bush wants to pretend it doesn't exist. Most Americans have moved past Bush on that score, as well.

But friendship, historical or pragmatic, doesn't require partners to be identical, just respectful and sometimes patient. This country and France are both better off with their relationship back where it belongs.

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