Just three days after being sworn in, French President Francois Hollande heads to Washington Friday for a crash course in big-power diplomacy in back-to-back summits at the White House, G8 and NATO.
After a first foreign visit to see German Chancellor Angela Merkel hours after his inauguration Tuesday, Hollande is to leave Paris with new Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius early Friday for a diplomatic baptism by fire in the US.
After meeting Barack Obama at the White House, Hollande and Fabius will have lunch with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Hollande will then have a bilateral meeting with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Then it's off to the Camp David presidential retreat near Washington for a meeting of G8 leaders on Friday and Saturday and a NATO summit in Chicago on Sunday and Monday.
The Socialist's meeting with Obama is expected to go well as the two are of the same mind on the need for European economic policy to focus on boosting growth as well as imposing fiscal austerity.
But Hollande will face some tough questions over his promise to pull France's 3,500 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, a year ahead of the previous schedule and two years before the official NATO withdrawal date.
Hollande has refined his position ahead of the NATO meeting, noting that the withdrawal will be carried out "in an intelligent way" and will apply only to combat troops.
"The United States will put pressure on Francois Hollande. He will confirm his campaign commitments, but will reassure them by explaining that for logistical reasons some of the soldiers will surely stay until the end of 2013. And everyone will be happy," said a diplomat who worked under former president Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Iran is another topic sure to be on the table at the international talks and Hollande has vowed to be "very firm" in dealing with Tehran's nuclear programme.
Earlier this week France's former Socialist premier Michel Rocard undertook a private visit to Tehran where he said top Iranian officials told him they were prepared to take "forward steps" to resolve the nuclear stand-off.
The crisis in Syria will also certainly be discussed and Fabius said Thursday that France was losing patience over the failure of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan to stop the violence.
"There are crises, but the one that gives me the greatest sense of frustration is Syria, where Kofi Annan's mission cannot drag on indefinitely," Fabius said.
Observers say Hollande, who has never before held a government post, is likely to be cautious in his first international outings.
But even once he finds his footing, Hollande is expected to be less aggressive on the foreign stage than Sarkozy, who played a major role in international crises like the Georgia-Russia conflict and Libya war.
Known as a consensus-builder and favouring compromise, Hollande's style is likely to be more careful than that of his predecessor.© ANP/AFP