On the porch of Arlington House Friday, county officials and a delegation from the French city of Reims renewed a pledge begun almost one year ago by resigning a Sister City agreement.
"Vive Reims, vive Arlington, vive Les Etats Uni, et Vive Le France," said Jean-Pierre Alex-Lyoudi, consul general of the French Embassy before the signing.
As sister cities, Arlington and Reims agreed to future educational and cultural exchanges across the Atlantic. Students from the two communities are expecting to be swapped, giving them a better chance to learn French or English. Sports clubs will play each other in competition — there was talk of a golf tournament — and libraries will soon be able to trade information. Universities and hospitals are talking about sharing research. And, according to Mayor of Reims Jean Louis Schnieter, there is also the potential for economic cooperation.
"It is through these exchanges, through our relationship and through our young people, that we will develop the world of peace that we desire," said Schnieter.
Turning to international affairs and the recent diplomatic strain between the U.S. and France in light of the war in Iraq, Schnieter said shared ideas of freedom and democracy still bind the two nations.
"I know that we have not always been in the same line of thinking, but we have to look at l'avenir, the future," said Schnieter.
The Sister City agreement was first signed in August of 2004 in Reims. Resigning it in Arlington affirms the agreement in both countries. Before the signing, the delegation laid a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier paid a visit to the grave of John F. Kennedy.
"The history of our two nations is strong and very interconnected," said County Board Chairman Jay Fisette after speaking his opening remarks in French. "There are differences, but every day the world gets smaller through telecommunication and trade. Every day we learn that we are more alike than we are different."
Officials of Arlington and Reims later adjourned to the French embassy for a meeting with the ambassador. Friday night, the Reims delegation was honored in a reception at the Arlington Arts Center. Arlington's guests remained in the county until Tuesday to witness the Fourth of July fireworks over the Potomac.
Arlington's relationship with Reims was fostered through its sister city partnership with Aachen, Germany. In 2004, Fisette joined a group of cyclists in a trip from Aachen to Reims. The county's third sister city is Coyoacan, Mexico.
Reims and Arlington share many similarities, according to Harry Amos, head of the Arlington-Reims Sister City committee. The two have almost the same number of residents. And as Arlingtonians await a Metro rail to Dulles Airport, Reims residents are looking forward to a project extending the TGV rail to nearby Paris. The two are both also rich in history. It was in Reims that German generals signed the official surrender to Allied forces after World War II. The Reims cathedral, its abbey, church and archiepiscopal palace are each designated as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations.
In his remarks, the French consul general stressed the historic connections between France and the United States. During the American Revolution, he said, an estimated 35,000 French soldiers and sailors fought alongside continental troops. At the battle of Yorktown, it was a French naval blockade that prevented the British general Cornwallis from reinforcing his regiment during a siege, granting Washington the chance for a final and decisive victory. And among George Washington's closest supporters during the war was the Marquis De Laffayette, his liaison with France and a key military advisor. A portrait of Laffayette hangs in Arlington House, which was once the home of Robert E. Lee. In 2005, French and U.S. diplomatic cooperation, he added, brought about the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
"Arlington is also of important significance for the French community in the Washington region," he said. "The French people are happy to live here. They feel welcome here."