French President Francois Hollande refuses to take question on his tangled love life
France’s President Francois Hollande, waves to the media during a joint statement with Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at the Elysee Palace, Paris, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. (AP / Michel Euler)
Raphael Satter, The Associated Press
Published Friday, January 31, 2014 10:22AM EST
LONDON -- French President Francois Hollande wants to talk about his country's work with the U.K. on a new combat drone, a multibillion-pound deal which could see France help build new nuclear power plants in the U.K., and thorny questions about his British counterpart David Cameron's contentious relationship to the European Union.
Just don't ask him about his love life.
Quizzed during a news conference at an English air base whether his reported philandering had turned France into an "international joke," the 59-year-old French leader deadpanned.
"I'm afraid I decline to answer," he said.
British journalists had been looking forward to Hollande's appearance, which comes less than a week after the French president officially ended his relationship with Valerie Trierweiler following a report that he was having an affair with glamorous actress Julie Gayet.
Instead they got an all-too-sober discussion of the enduring relationship between France and Britain, which bore fruit Friday in the form of a nearly $200 million agreement to develop an armed combat drone, approval of an investment deal for nuclear power in Britain which Hollande valued at 16 billion pounds (more than $26 billion), and 15 million pounds earmarked for joint investment on space-related programs.
They also agreed on developing an undersea drone -- intended to counter mines -- and more logistical support for the French military mission in Central African Republic. British and French soldiers are due to hold a joint training exercise later this year, and Cameron said the British military would take France's VBCIs -- eight-wheeled infantry tanks -- for a test drive with a view toward buying some.
There was considerably more daylight between the two leaders on the subject of Europe. Cameron has said he wants to renegotiate key parts of the European Union treaties as a prelude to an in-or-out referendum in Britain. Hollande said treaty change "is not a priority for the time being."
The leaders addressed Syria, too -- including a comment from Hollande that between 600 and 700 Britons or U.K. residents had travelled to the Middle Eastern country to fight in its civil war. British intelligence bosses had previously put the figure vaguely at "hundreds."
Hollande and Cameron were speaking at an aircraft hangar at England's Brize Norton air base. The two later retired for drinks and grub at a local pub, The Swan Inn.