Sarkozy threatens to bolt. Brown, Obama don't buy it

LONDON - Watch the Franco-German axis.

France and Germany may present a formidable challenge to the idea of G-20 unity. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is promising to walk out if things don’t go his way.

"I will not associate myself with a summit that would end with a communiqué made of false compromises that would not tackle the issues that concern us." Mr. Sarkozy said Wednesday morning in a Europe 1 radio interview.

What Sarkozy wants is tougher financial regulations, and less emphasis on stimulus spending.

But Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Barack Obama are trying to downplay the pre-summit Merkel-Sarkozy contretemps.

"The truth is that that's just arguing at the margins," Mr. Obama said at a joint press conference Wednesday in London with Mr. Brown. "The core notion that government has to take some steps to deal with a contracting market place and to restore growth is not in dispute."

And Brown wasn’t buying Sarkozy’s attempt to upstage the summit either.

"I'm confident that President Sarkozy will be here not just for the first course of our dinner but will still be here when we complete our dinner this evening," he said.

Sarkozy has laid much of the blame for the economic crisis at the door of "Anglo-Saxon" economies.

What's the backstory?

A competition between the flamboyant, hyperactive Frenchman and the bookish British Prime Minister over who will be seen as Europe's de-facto guiding force against the world recession at a time when both are under pressure from their own electorates.

Perhaps more than any other leader, the summit is crucial to the political fortunes of its British host, who is on the ropes at home where he was criticized for jetting around the world in preparation as Britain slides into the deepest recession of any major Western economy.

But we’re just getting warmed up, folks.

Sarkozy and Merkel are planning their own joint news conference later Wednesday. Expect them to criticize Brown for unleashing one major stimulus after another.

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