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Chirac 'charms' U.S. first lady

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CNN's Soledad O'Brien travels to Europe with first lady Laura Bush. Tune in for live reports.
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U.S. first lady Laura Bush's trip to Europe will focus on literacy and education. CNN's Soledad O'Brien reports (September 29)
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On the Scene: CNN's Soledad O'Brien 
Laura Bush
Jacques Chirac

PARIS, France (CNN) -- U.S. first lady Laura Bush has paid a social call on French President Jacques Chirac -- a visit White House officials described as "gracious, friendly and charming."

Chirac kissed Bush's hand as he welcomed her to the Presidential Palace in Paris for Monday's short meeting.

White House officials said Chirac told the first lady he hoped the United States and France could put their differences over the war in Iraq, which have strained relations between the two countries, behind them.

"Let bygones be bygones, we all agree we need to rebuild Iraq," the officials quoted Chirac as saying.

He also sent his best wishes to the people of the United States and said he was looking forward to attending the G-8 Summit next June on Sea Island, on the U.S. southeast coast.

Bush is in France as part of a five-day tour focusing on education and literacy that will also take her to Russia.

Chirac expressed interest in her trip and said illiteracy was also a problem in France.

At a separate function later on Monday Bush hailed America's rejoining of the main United Nations cultural body as a crucial partnership in the war against "an ideology of hate and violence" she said had produced terror attacks around the globe.

She told the Paris meeting of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that the U.S. promised to be a "full, active and enthusiastic participant."

The U.S. withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 citing bad management and anti-Western bias. President George W. Bush announced plans to return to the organization last year as he tried but failed to win U.N. backing for the war in Iraq.

In her address the first lady said education and literacy were vital to improve people's lives, and to promote peace and security.

"UNESCO, an institution born of a yearning for peace that survived years of war, can now help achieve peace by spreading the values that will help defeat terror and lead to a safer and better world," Bush said.

The U.N. body earlier this year named the first lady its honorary ambassador for the U.N. Decade of Literacy, which addresses the 860 million adults and 113 million children around the world who cannot read or write.

The first lady will travel next to Moscow and attend a book festival put on by President Vladimir Putin's wife, Lyudmila Putina. Putina joined Bush at last year's National Book Festival in Washington, the second annual festival launched by the U.S. first lady.

Literacy and education are key issues for Bush, a former teacher and school librarian. Her initiative, "Ready to Read, Ready to Learn," is intended to teach all children to read by the time they enter their first classroom and to prepare well-trained schoolteachers.

Several American authors plan to accompany the first lady to the Moscow book festival. Bush said she hopes people get to understand the United States through its literature.

-- CNN Correspondent Soledad O'Brien contributed to this report.

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