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Soledad O'Brien: First lady in diplomatic role in Europe

CNN's Soledad O'Brien
CNN's Soledad O'Brien

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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 started her trip to Europe by paying a social call to French President Jacques Chirac. CNN's Soledad O'Brien reports (September 30)
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Soledad O'Brien
Laura Bush
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
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PARIS, France (CNN) -- U.S. first lady Laura Bush paid a social call on French President Jacques Chirac on Monday in Paris -- a visit White House officials described as "gracious, friendly and charming."

The French capital is the first stop on a solo European trip for Mrs. Bush, who is playing a dual role as ambassador for the United States and champion of education and literacy efforts.

CNN's Soledad O'Brien, who is traveling with the first lady, filed this report Monday:

O'BRIEN: The first lady's main mission in Paris is to deliver the keynote address to a meeting of UNESCO -- the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The United States is rejoining the group after a 19-year absence.

That is the official reason that she's here, but of course when you look at the places she's going on this trip -- Paris and then on to Moscow -- these are two nations that have had difficulties -- diplomatically speaking -- with the U.S. And frankly, I think many people have expectations of an ambassadorial role for the first lady, and so far we have seen that come into play.

She met with French President Chirac and later was to meet the new Iraqi education minister.

White House officials did come out to talk to us about the meeting between Chirac and Mrs. Bush, and [an official] described the French president as being very gracious and friendly and charming throughout the entire meeting and quoted him as saying, "Let bygones be bygones. We all agree we need to rebuild Iraq."

That was a comment that came up when the topic of a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution on rebuilding Iraq [arose]. The resolution is backed by the United States, but it's well-known that Chirac and the Bush administration have not always seen eye to eye at the U.N. on the Iraq situation.

So I think that's an indication -- to some degree -- of the role that Mrs. Bush is playing here as an ambassador, while she's actually on another official mission here -- the speech to UNESCO.

It won't be all business on the first lady's trip. Although there is not a lot of downtime, she will get an opportunity to go to the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.

But overall, she's doing a little bit of a sprint through Paris, a little bit of a sprint through Moscow -- just spending a day in each locale. It's a pretty quick trip.

In Moscow, she's going to be attending a book festival that Russian first lady Lyudmila Putina modeled after Mrs. Bush's National Book Festival last year in the United States.

Literacy and education are important issues to Mrs. Bush, who is a former teacher and school librarian.

This tour is not Mrs. Bush's first solo trip abroad as American first lady. She traveled here to Paris in May of last year. But you know, many people describe her as someone who prefers to be out of the limelight, and trips like this for her are unusual.

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