The French president shook Speaker Nancy Pelosi's hand after addressing Congress Wednesday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged Wednesday a renewed alliance and friendship between his country and the United States, and promised to stand firm with Washington on the war in Afghanistan and against Iran's nuclear program.
In a speech to a joint meeting of Congress, Sarkozy - facing problems back home as he tries to implement his campaign promises on immigration and economic reforms - recalled the long history of friendship between the two countries.
"In times of difficulty, in times of hardship, America and France have always stood side by side, supported one another, helped one another, fought for each other's freedom," he said.
Lawmakers greeted Sarkozy's entrance into the chamber with a standing ovation and lengthy applause; evidence of the renewed hopes for Franco-American relations that were chilled in recent years under former President Jacques Chirac over differences of opinion on the Iraq war.
While he never mentioned Iraq, Sarkozy vowed to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States on the war in Afghanistan.
"Let me tell you solemnly today: France will remain engaged in Afghanistan as long as it takes, because what's at stake in that country is the future of our values and that of the Atlantic Alliance," he said. "For me, failure is not an option. Terrorism will not win because democracies are not weak, because we are not afraid of this barbarism. America can count on France."
Sarkozy also promised to help in the fight against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, citing Iran's nuclear program, in particular.
"Let me say it here before all of you: The prospect of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons is unacceptable," he said.
"The Iranian people is a great people. It deserves better than the increased sanctions and growing isolation to which its leaders condemn it. Iran must be convinced to choose cooperation, dialogue and openness. No one must doubt our determination."
But Sarkozy made it clear that while his government will work with Washington on many issues, the relationship will be on an equal footing.
"I want to be your friend, your ally and your partner. But a friend who stands on his own two feet. An independent ally. A free partner," he said.
The French president also addressed the situation in the Middle East, calling on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to "Risk peace! And do it now!"
"The status quo hides even greater dangers: that of delivering Palestinian society as a whole to the extremists that contest Israel's existence; that of playing into the hands of radical regimes that are
exploiting the deadlock in the conflict to destabilize the region; that of fueling the propaganda of terrorists who want to set Islam against the West," Sarkozy said. "France wants security for Israel and a state for the Palestinians."
He called on Washington to pay attention to the dollar's latest woes, to stand with Europe in the fight against global warming, and to take the lead in shaping reforms in the United Nations, the World Bank and the G8.
"Our globalized world must be organized for the 21st century, not for the last century. The emerging countries we need for global equilibrium must be given their rightful place," the French president said.
He closed his comments with a request: that the United States "trust Europe."
"In this unstable, dangerous world, the United States of America needs a strong, determined Europe."
Sarkozy said he sees a need in the future for Europe to "shoulder a growing share of their defense."
"All of our allies, beginning with the United States, with whom we most often share the same interests and the same adversaries, have a strategic interest in a Europe that can assert itself as a strong, credible security partner," he explained.