LONDON - President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and his supermodel wife swept into Britain yesterday, mixing elaborate pomp with his impassioned warning that the West must beat the Taliban in Afghanistan no matter the cost.
Sarkozy played the statesman as he began his official visit - the first by a French president to Britain in 12 years. Gone were his trademark shades and ubiquitous cell phone as he greeted Queen Elizabeth II and inspected rows of cavalrymen.
After a round of ceremonial duties, Sarkozy gave a fiery speech to a joint sitting of the House of Commons and House of Lords. He followed a powerful tribute to Britain's role in countering fascism in Europe with a promise to stand by London as it fights the Taliban.
"We cannot afford to lose Afghanistan," Sarkozy said, speaking in French. "Whatever the cost, whatever the expense, we cannot afford it."
Without specifying numbers, he pledged more French troops for NATO's mission in Afghanistan if Afghans also get more responsibility and there is better coordination of nonmilitary efforts.
The pledge underscores his determination to revitalize relations with Britain and the United States and put aside differences over the Iraq war.
Canada has warned that it will pull its 2,500 soldiers out of Afghanistan if other allies do not offer more help. It wants 1,000 more soldiers for anti-Taliban efforts.
Sarkozy called for Britain and France to cooperate more closely in Europe and to work together to press the US on climate change.
"Who better than its closest, sincerest friends to remind the US of its responsibilities?" he said.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown plans lengthy discussions today with Sarkozy on Afghanistan, a possible joint nuclear energy project, climate change and the international response to unrest in Tibet.