'We want to be friend to U.S.'

The French ambassador to the United States says "France is back."

The French Ambassador to the United States, Pierre Vimont, spoke to about 250 people Thursday night about the political relationship between the two countries.

"We want to be a true friend, a loyal and serious partner to the U.S," he said.

Differences will occur, Vimont quickly pointed out, but should be treated with discussion and candor.

At a dinner hosted by Christopher Newport University, Vimont, who was appointed ambassador by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in August, also highlighted France's role in the international community.

In July, France will assume presidency of the European Union, a 27-member political and economic community that sets policies for each member state, such as introducing a common currency, the euro, in 1999.

The presidency rotates between member countries every six months.

"France is a conservative country that hates anything that looks like modern times," Vimont said. "But we're returning to mainstream political affairs, and the new president is pushing for major change.

"To be blunt: France is back."

Vimont's visit was co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads. It included a whirlwind tour of the area, including a visit to Old Dominion University, where he lunched with political science students, and a tour of Jefferson Lab.

He said he tries to visit two or three cities a month. He last spoke in Baton Rouge, La.

"Staying in Washington will not give you a complete view of the country," he said. "It is important to reach out and see the diversity of the U.S."