French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday he remembers being dumbstruck at seeing TV images of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and still keeps a small steel block retrieved from the twin towers rubble in his office as a reminder.
Sarkozy _ seen as one of France's most pro-American presidents in recent years _ attended a ceremony at the United States Embassy in Paris ahead of Sunday's 10-year anniversary of the attacks.
"On this day of September 11, every French person felt hit," Sarkozy said. "The barbarians chose New York as the epicenter, but it could have been Paris."
"Ten years later, (Osama) Bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaida is decapitated. Afghanistan is no more the sanctuary of darkness where terrorists planned their attacks around the world unpunished."
Speaking with reporters afterward, Sarkozy _ the then mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine _ recalled how he'd just returned from lunch to his office, and was aghast at the images.
"I remember the blue sky, the images without sound ... it was like in slow motion," said Sarkozy. "I was stupefied."
He said he still keeps a small memento _ holding his hands together as if to hold a melon-sized object _ extracted from the rubble of the towers, and given to him by a victims' association.
France on Sunday is to commemorate the attacks with the erection near the Eiffel Tower of a temporary nine-story scaled-down replica of the towers bearing the victims' names.
U.S. Ambassador Charles Rivkin, in an interview with The Associated Press, said the U.S.-French relationship has improved since Sept-11 and "I don't think it could get better."
"On that day here in France Le Monde (newspaper) said 'On est tous americains' _ 'We are all Americans' _ and I think that spirit continues today," he said