While ties between the French and U.S. governments were fraying at the national level due to revelations about extensive U.S. electronic eavesdropping within France, Franco-American ties in Atlanta were growing stronger than ever.
During a Monday, Oct. 21 midday press conference, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed praised the French consulate general and the Georgia Institute of Technology for collaborating a fourth time on the France-Atlanta program.
The program, which has grown in momentum since it was launched as an experiment in 2010, is to run from Oct. 23-Nov. 29, and is to feature more than 20 events developing French-American partnerships in science, economics, culture and humanitarian work.
The mayor professed his affection for France and cited close ties between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Paris airports formalized in a memorandum of understanding to promote each other’s airport areas.
Later in the day, the French consulate general announced that Georgia Tech’s president, G. P. “Bud” Peterson, is to be honored with the Legion of Honor, in the rank of Knight, for the ties between Georgia Tech and Georgia Tech Lorraine, the university’s overseas campus just outside of Metz, France.
Also, Charles Kolb, president of the U.S. chapter of the New York-based French-American Foundation, was still in town after participating in the Oct. 16-20 meeting of 40 “young leaders” from France and the U.S. who held their annual conference here for the first time.
Meanwhile ,on that Monday, the American ambassador, Charles H. Rivkin, was called to meet with officials of the French Foreign Ministry to explain revelations that the U.S. had monitored 70 million digital communications inside France from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.
The disclosures were based on secret documents provided by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, and reported on by Le Monde, a widely followed newspaper in France.
U.S. President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande reportedly discussed the breach during a telephone call during which Mr. Hollande stopped short of calling the revelations a breach of sovereignty.
During an interview with Global Atlanta, Mr. Kolb said, “I understand why the French are upset. I’m upset about it too.”
As president of the foundation’s U.S. chapter, Mr. Kolb represents one of the key trans-Atlantic organizations that works to bring together French and U.S. leaders, policymakers and a wide range of professionals to exchange views and share experiences.
The foundation organizes with its French counterpart the prestigious young leaders program, which was created in 1981 in an effort to develop networks of celebrated individuals to work together on global issues.
The participants are between 30 and 40-years-old and often become important in a wide variety of fields including academia, the arts, business, journalism, and politics.
Participants have included such prominent Americans as former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sens. Evan Bayh and Bill Bradley, former White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Charles Ferguson and many business leaders.
On the French side, young leaders have included members of both the cabinets of Mr. Hollande and former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr. Hollande, the current president, was himself a chosen participant in 1996.
Mr. Kolb is a 10-year veteran of government service having held senior-level positions in the White House, the Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Department of Education.
“I think that the relations between our countries have never been stronger,” he said. “We’re a decade away from ‘the freedom fries’ period and the current issue will blow over.”
Having said that, however, he reviewed a congressional hearing during which senior officials including James R. Clapper, director of National Intelligence, misinformed members of Congress.
In the face of such controversies, Mr. Kolb added that the foundation plays an increasingly important role, providing serious dialogue among the young leaders and through its other programs
Each young leaders class has 10 U.S. and 10 French representatives who meet with the previous year’s class, alternating between France and the U.S.
Last year the meeting was held in Paris and Le Havre, France, and Georgia Rep. Scott Holcomb, a member of the class of 2012, recommended that this year’s meeting be held in Atlanta.
Their program included four packed days of meetings and forays to a variety of local venues including the State Capitol, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Coca-Cola Co., CNN Center, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
They also met with local officials including Mr. Reed, Georgia state Sen. Jason Carter, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, CDC representatives, and executives from Coca-Cola, CNN, the French consulate general, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the French-American Chamber of Commerce, Atlanta chapter.