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Sunday May 24th, 2015 5:18AM

Obama, Hollande open lavish state visit

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lauding the "enduring alliance" between their nations, President Barack Obama on Tuesday welcomed French President Francois Hollande to the White House for a lavish state visit. The highly anticipated trip is taking place amid swirling speculation on both sides of the Atlantic about problems in Hollande's personal life.

On a cold February morning, Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and a military honor guard welcomed Hollande as he arrived on the South Lawn of the White House. The two leaders shook hands before a cheering crowd, many waving American and French flags, and greeted two American military veterans who served in France during World War II.

Obama and Hollande both highlighted the long-standing ties between their nations and the key role they have played in shaping their respective histories.

"We stand here because of each other," Obama said. "We owe our freedom to each other."

Hollande, alternating between French and English, echoed those comments, saying "Each of our countries knows what it owes to each other - its freedom."

Following the arrival ceremony, Obama and Hollande headed to the Oval Office for policy meetings on Iran, Syria and rising extremism in Northern Africa. Later Tuesday, the Obamas will fete Hollande at a grand state dinner attended by more than 300 dignitaries and celebrities.

Despite the array of pressing foreign policy concerns on tap for Tuesday's talks, much of the focus surrounding Hollande's state visit has been on the French leader's romantic woes. The 59-year-old ended his relationship last month with girlfriend and French first lady Valerie Trierweiler after it was revealed that he was having an affair with an actress. Hollande showed up in Washington without a guest to accompany him during his two days of events.
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