WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- The United States and France are standing together to address issues of mutual concern, presidents of the two countries told a news conference on Tuesday, in a show of solidarity for revamped Franco-American ties.
The U.S.-French alliance "has never been stronger", and the level of cooperation across a whole range of issues is much deeper than before, U.S. President Barack Obama said.
The relations of the two countries hit a low point prior to the Iraq War more than a decade ago, when France refused to support the U.S.-led invasion.
Calling France "one of America's closest allies," Obama said the two countries are standing together to improve the lives of not only their own citizens, but people around the world.
Due to their places in the world and their roles in the UN, France and the U.S. can act on security throughout the world for freedom, democracy and the rule of law, said French President Francois Hollande, who is in the midst of the first state visit by a French head of state to the United States in 18 years.
JOINT EFFORTS ON SECURITY CHALLENGES
At the press conference, Obama hailed the concerted diplomatic efforts of the U.S. and France on key challenges to global security, including issues on Iran, Syria and Africa.
"Our unity with our P5+1 partners, backed with strong sanctions, has succeeded in halting and rolling back key parts of the Iranian nuclear program," Obama said.
The U.S. and France remain "absolutely united" on the ultimate goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he said.
But the U.S. President also took the occasion to warn that companies exploring business opportunities in Iran face potential risks, alluding to a trip to the Islamic republic by a large French trade delegation earlier this month.
He vowed that the U.S. will come down "like a ton of bricks" on sanctions violators.
"President Hollande and I agree on the need to continue enforcing existing sanctions even as we believe that new sanctions during these negotiations would endanger the possibility of a diplomatic solution," Obama said.
"Businesses may be exploring -- are there some possibilities to get in sooner rather than later if and when there is an actual agreement to be had?" Obama said. "But I can tell you that they do so at their own peril right now, because we will come down on them like a ton of bricks."
Hollande played down the trip by the French businessmen, saying that he cannot control the travel of business executives.
"Companies just make their decisions when it comes to travel," he said, noting that he had made clear to French businessmen what sanctions entail.
World powers sealed a landmark preliminary deal with Iran in November, under which Tehran agreed to halt its most sensitive nuclear operations in return for winning some relief from sanctions.
The United States and the European Union have suspended some sanctions on Iran under the interim deal.
Washington, however, has warned that the interim nuclear deal does not mean Iran is "open for business" and vowed to vigorously enforce existing sanctions.
The U.S. and France have also been cooperating to end the violence in Syria, a former French colonial.
At the press conference, Obama admitted "enormous frustration" over the current situation in Syria, saying that the peace talks between the government and opposition forces are "far from" reaching the goals of restoring normalcy in the conflict-torn country.
"The Assad's regime wasn't particularly responsive and I think even some of their patrons were disturbed by their belligerence," Obama told reporters.
The U.S. and France also agreed to continue their cooperation on Mali and the Central African Republic, where leaders and communities need to show the courage to resist further violence and to pursue reconciliation, Obama said.
He praised Hollande for showing courage and resolve in addressing issues from Mali, the Central African Republic, to Syria and Iran and thanked him for "being such a strong partner to the United States."
MUTUAL TRUST RESTORED
At the press conference, Hollande told reporters that the two allies had resolved their differences over U.S. spying activities.
Leaders of many U.S. allies were angered by the revelation last year that the U.S. monitored their telephone calls.
"We wanted to fight against terrorism, but we also wanted to meet a number of principles, and we are making headway in this cooperation. Mutual trust has been restored," Hollande told reporters.
"The fact that any individual, in spite of technological progress, can be sure that he is not being spied on, these are principles that unite us," he added.
"There's no country where we have a no-spy agreement," Obama said. "We have an intelligence capability and then we have a range of partnerships with all kinds of countries and we've been in consultations with the French government to deepen those commitments."
But the U.S. is "committed to respecting the privacy of the people of France," Obama said. "Both publicly and privately, I want to reiterate today to the French press is that we are committed to making sure that we are protecting and concerned about the privacy rights, not just of Americans, not just of own citizens, but of people around the world as well."
At the start of Hollande's three-day visit on Monday, Obama took him to a tour to Thomas Jefferson's estate in the State of Virginia. During the trip, the two leaders hailed long-standing Franco-American relations that benefited from the legacy of the famed Francophile.
"We were allies in the time of Jefferson and Lafayette. We are still allies today. We were friends in the time of Jefferson and Lafayette, and we will remain friends forever," Hollande said in Monticello's foyer.
Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the country's third president, was the American minister to France when Bastille was stormed, which set in motion the French Revolution.
Noting Jefferson's special role in U.S. and French history, Obama said he represents "the incredible bond and the incredible gifts that France gave to the United States, because he was a Francophile through and through."
At Tuesday's press conference, Obama also announced that he would travel to France in June to attend events in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day landings.
"I was there for the 65th anniversary, and it was an extraordinary experience," Obama said, adding "I'm looking forward to returning to honor our remarkable veterans and to reaffirm this extraordinary alliance."
The upcoming events will be held on France's Normandy beaches, where allied troops launched a surprise military operation on June 6, 1944 during World War II and hereafter turned the tide of war against the Nazi German troops.