In this May 19, 2012 file photo, French President Francois Hollande, left, answers a question with President Barack Obama during a photo opportunity at the G-8 Summit at Camp David, Md. France's suddenly single president arrives Monday Feb. 10, 2014 in the U.S. for a state visit, hoping the glaring absence of his first lady won't steal the limelight from his focus on major policy issues with President Barack Obama. Hollande will be highlighting France's shared interests with Washington on issues like Syria's civil war, Iran's nuclear program and terrorism in Africa. / Susan Walsh AP
President Obama rolled out the red carpet for Francois Hollande on Monday, kicking off a state visit for the French president with a tour of the picturesque estate that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, a pivotal figure in establishing the U.S.-Franco relationship.
Jefferson, the third president of the United States, started building Monticello when he was a young man.
A noted Francophile who served as U.S. ambassador to France, Jefferson lived in France as the French Revolution unfolded.
With the trip to the Virginia plantation, Obama intended to underscore the long and increasingly crucial relationship between the U.S. and France.
"This home represents the bonds that helped lead to the American revolution, helped to influence the French Revolution," Obama said after they completed their tour.
Hollande joked about how Jefferson purchased the Louisiana territory from Napoleon in 1803.
"It was a good bargain!" Obama quipped..
The visit by Hollande comes at awkward moment -- just weeks after he announced that he has split with companion and France's first lady, Valérie Trierweiler. The split followed reports last month that Hollande had been having an affair with actress Julie Gayet.
But the two leaders seemed intent on noting how far the two countries have come since the days of American lawmakers rebuking France for its opposition to the Iraq war by ordering their burgers with a side of "freedom fries."
"A decade ago, few would have imagined our two countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed," Obama and Hollande wrote in a joint Op-Ed published in the Washington Post and Le Monde on Monday.
White House officials on Monday highlighted the two countries' cooperation in reaching an interim agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program through the P5+1 as well as their ongoing effort to end the three-year-old civil war in Syria. Even before Hollande began his presidency last year, the Obama administration coordinated closely with the French on Afghanistan and Libya.
France has also played a key role in dealing with security challenges in combating the rise of Islamic militants in places like Mali and the Central African Republic, with airlift and other logistical support coming from the Untied States.
The two leaders will also spend plenty of time talking about economic issues, including ongoing negotiations for a major U.S.-European Union trade deal, and France's ailing economy.
Both Obama and Hollande are facing declining popularity -- in Hollande's case, he has the lowest favorability rating of any modern French president.
Although U.S. unemployment has fallen to 6.6%, Obama has repeatedly acknowledged that too many Americans are struggling, and he has made addressing income inequality a central focus of his remaining time in office.
Hollande faces a more difficult situation, with French unemployment hovering around 11% and 0.4% economic growth in the last quarter.
The two returned to Washington on Monday night, where Hollande was to have dinner with International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
On Tuesday, Hollande and Obama will meet again at the White House and hold a joint news conference.
Hollande will also be honored with a luncheon by Vice President Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday afternoon, and the official visit will be wrapped up with a state dinner on Tuesday night at the White House.
White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford and White House pastry chef William Yosses appear ready for the challenge of cooking for the leader of the gastronomic epicenter of the universe and have come up with their "Across America" menu for the dinner.
If the dinner isn't impressive enough, the evening's entertainment should be. The White House has arranged for Mary J. Blige to perform after dinner.
The White House won't say yet how many they expect to attend Tuesday night's dinner, the seventh state or official dinner of Obama's presidency.
But one indicator that they've invited a big group is that the White House announced it will not be using any of its official china. White House curator Bill Allman explained that none of the services are big enough to accommodate the expected crowd.
Before returning to France, Hollande will also travel to San Francisco on Wednesday and meet with tech executives, including officials from Facebook, Twitter and Google.
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Read the original story: Obama, Hollande get beyond 'freedom fries'