LONDON (Reuters) - The customary red carpet of diplomatic protocol took on added significance on Tuesday when British Prime Minister David Cameron sought to get his relationship with France's new president onto a better footing after an initial faux pas.
On his first visit to London as head of state, Francois Hollande made light of Cameron's quip at a G20 summit last month that Britain would roll out the red carpet for French tax exiles seeking haven from Hollande's planned tax increases.
"I was not offended by that humorous comment. I appreciate humour, particularly British humour," Hollande said during a joint news conference with Cameron at his Number 10 Downing Street office.
"So I am very happy at the prospect of more red carpets over the coming months and years, and I don't think there will be any adverse effects either on capital flows or on our relationship."
Cameron's comment had caused offence in high places in Paris, where some ministers have taken to calling the British leader "Red Carpet" in private.
France and Britain tend to see eye-to-eye on big foreign policy issues such as Iran's nuclear programme, the Libyan uprising and the crisis in Syria, and the two countries cooperate closely on defence matters.
But relations have been strained on other topics since the 2008 financial crisis. Paris wants tighter bank regulation and a tax on financial transactions, which London rejects for fear of harming a vital sector of the British economy.
The euro zone crisis has caused trouble, with an exasperated Cameron urging the monetary bloc to sort itself out and his EU partners, not least Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, dismissive of advice from outside the single currency zone.
The Socialist Hollande and the Conservative Cameron both seemed determined to forge a good working relationship despite their political differences and the awkwardness over the red carpet comment.
"As for red carpets, there was one today for Francois only," Cameron said during the news conference, which was full of smiles and courtesies.
His government had indeed pulled out the stops for Hollande, deploying guards of honour in full red regalia with tall bearskin caps to stand to attention while a military band played the Marseillaise, the French national anthem.
After his meeting with Cameron, Hollande was scheduled to have tea with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle - an unusual privilege as this was a mere official visit rather than a more formal state visit.
These niceties were in stark contrast to a visit to London in February by Hollande, then in opposition and campaigning for the presidency. Cameron declined to meet the Socialist candidate, who instead made a joint appearance with British opposition leader Ed Miliband, of the Labour Party.
"There are rules and I understand them perfectly," Hollande said on Tuesday in a spirit of conciliation.
"During a campaign there are political sensitivities that create certain solidarities, and then there are state-to-state, government-to-government relations," he said with a knowing smile at his British host.
(Additional reporting by Julien Ponthus in London and Vicky Buffery in Paris; Editing by Alison Williams)