Parlez Vous Francais, Mr President?

President Barack Obama better brush up on his French: Francois Hollande acknowledges in an interview with Slate magazine that he speaks English, “but a French president has to speak French!”

The two leaders are due to meet at Camp David on May 18 and 19 at the G8 Summit, although the White House has invited the French President for a bilateral meeting in Washington DC beforehand.

Asked if a leader should understand the main language of international diplomacy, i.e. English, Hollande responds: “he needs to understand it and to be able to have unmediated exchanges with his interlocutors” but adds that he is “attached to the French language.”

On other fronts, the U.S. and French presidents may have much in common. He notes: “We have similarities on the economic level.” By this he presumably means their shared opposition to the idea that deficit cutting can boost growth. Although it is doubtful whether Obama will want to get two kisses on his cheek from a French President who is a declared “Socialist” — that would be a godsend for the folks at Fox News!

He praises Obama in the interview, saying, “the Democratic administration’s choices in terms of foreign policy showed serious and beneficial changes compared with the preceding one.”

And he mentions he has no wish to make life harder for Obama with an upcoming election: “I intend to assert France’s independence without making Barack Obama’s task any more difficult. For example, I will maintain the position I had during my campaign of a pullout of French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, in agreement with our allies.”

What will he push at Camp David? There are hints. He says “convertibility of the Chinese currency should have been discussed at the G20” earlier this year and he argues that reform of the international monetary system must be “a priority.” He shares his predecessor’s tough line on Iran and the development of a nuclear weapon but appears to see some room for maneuver in terms of negotiation.