PARIS - President Barack Obama says the American people love all things French.

He also acknowledges his own penchant for Gallic food and wines.

In his first interview with a French television channel, Obama heaped praise on the country in an apparent attempt to stamp out any lingering tensions sparked by France's opposition to the United State's 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Days ahead of a trip that will take him to Normandy and Paris for D-Day commemorations, Obama told I-Tele and Canal Plus: "France is one of the most important countries in the world."

Obama - who gave the interview in English - says French collaboration is crucial to solving the world's problems, from climate change to the global recession.

Obama also spoke enthusiastically about French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with whom he said he had a "wonderful relationship."

"He has been very courageous in some of the decisions he has made," Obama said, referring to Sarkozy's strong stance on Afghanistan and Iran's nuclear program.

Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, sparked widespread hostility toward France and French people and products among Americans with his staunch opposition to the Iraq war.

But Obama strove to prove that the days of "freedom fries" and U.S. boycotts of French wines and cheeses - which have come to symbolize the worst of the recent bout of French-American tension - are a thing of the past.

"I think the American people continue to love all French things," he said in the interview Tuesday.

Relations between France and the United States have steadily improved in recent years, particularly since the 2007 election of Sarkozy, who is widely seen as pro-American, and that of Obama, who is wildly popular in France.

Asked what about France he himself loved, Obama responded, "Let's see, we have the food, we have Paris, we got the south of France, Provence, the wine."

Obama said he had travelled through France during his college days and that a return trip to the southeastern region of Provence was long overdue, though he acknowledged his French was rusty.

"I studied it in high school and I just forgot it," he said, adding that his wife, Michelle, "speaks a little French."

"Merci beaucoup," he said, concluding the 10-minute-long interview.