WASHINGTON — French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed warmer relations with the United States — and emphasized his country's appreciation for American sacrifices in World War II — in a message readied for Congress Wednesday.

"Our friendship and our alliance is strong," he said in remarks prepared for a joint meeting of the House and Senate, taking a statement of goodwill to Capitol Hill a day after celebrating a new and cozier era in U.S.-French relations at a White House dinner with President Bush.

Sarkozy came to Washington seeking to restore the kind of strong relationship that existed between Paris and Washington before sharp differences arose over the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

In his prepared remarks to lawmakers in the chamber of the House of Representatives, Sarkozy highlighted France's long friendship with the United States. On this U.S. visit, his words — as well as his demeanor — have contrasted sharply with the style of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who publicly clashed with Bush over Iraq.

Sarkozy expressed gratitude in the prepared speech for the U.S. role in liberating France from Nazi occupation in World War II.

"I want to tell you that whenever an American soldier falls somewhere in the world, I think of what the American army did for France," he said. "I think of them, and I am sad, as one is sad to lose a member of one's family."

Sarkozy's address to Congress highlights the improved relations. In 1996, many U.S. lawmakers boycotted a similar appearance by Chirac to protest France's nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

Bush and Sarkozy dined at the White House Tuesday night and were traveling later Wednesday to Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of George Washington, the first U.S. president.

In his toast Tuesday night, Bush did not mention France's opposition to the war. Instead, he spoke of working with France to help others around the world resist tyranny and oppression.

"French and American troops are helping defend a young democracy in Afghanistan," said Bush.

For his part, Sarkozy didn't sidestep the fact that Bush and the war in Iraq remain unpopular in his country. "I also came to say that one can be a friend of America, and yet win elections in France," he joked during his toast at a White House dinner where the two leaders dined on lobster bisque and lamb.

That's not something Bush would have heard from Chirac.

Iran and the Middle East peace efforts were likely to dominate Sarkozy's discussions with Bush this week as the two countries look to build on their warmer relations and improve policy coordination.

In his toast Tuesday night, Bush didn't mention France's opposition to the war. Instead, he spoke of working with France to help others around the world resist tyranny and oppression.

"French and American troops are helping defend a young democracy in Afghanistan," said Bush, who was taking Sarkozy at midday Wednesday to Mount Vernon, which was the Virginia home of George Washington.

"Our two nations support the democratic government in Lebanon. We agree that reconciliation and democracy in Iraq are vital to the future of the Middle East. And our two nations condemn violations of human rights in Darfur, in Burma and around the world," Bush said.

Sarkozy — known in France as "Sarko the American" — described the U.S.-French relationship as "simple," yet "always beautiful." In his remarks in the State Dining Room, he spoke with passion about freedom and liberty and the need for U.S.-French cooperation in addressing terrorism, nuclear proliferation, poverty and religious fanaticism.

"I've come to Washington to bear a very simple, straightforward message. ... I wish to re-conquer the heart of America. I want to re-conquer the heart of America in a lasting fashion," he said.

The French president also paid tribute to American veterans who fought in World War II and ended by proclaiming "Long live Franco-American friendship."

Sarkozy, who was seated next to first lady Laura Bush, came to the White House alone. He and his wife, Cecilia, announced their divorce on Oct. 18, a first for a French head of state.

The U.S. and France back tough diplomacy to keep Iran from having nuclear weapons. They have jointly sponsored U.N. resolutions supporting Lebanese sovereignty. And while France fiercely opposed the war in Iraq, Sarkozy sent his foreign minister on a surprise three-day trek to Baghdad in August to enhance France's role in Iraq's future.

"I never quite understood why we had to fight with the United States," Sarkozy said earlier in the day at a meeting of the French-American Business Council.

Sarkozy, an energetic 52-year-old conservative, has wasted no time in his bid to modernize France, in part by trying to inject an American-style work ethic. As a sign of his pro-American tendencies, he took a summer vacation in the United States, causing a stir back home.


Associated Press Writer Desmond Butler contributed to this report.