French president shrugs off loss of AAA rating 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday shrugged off his country's loss of its prized triple A rating for its debt in his first public comments on last week's downgrade.

Standard & Poor's lowered its rating of the country's debt on Friday on concerns over its economy and Europe's ability to get a handle on its debt woes. Since then, Sarkozy has avoided directly commenting on the downgrade, relying instead on his finance minister and prime minister to downplay the loss.

The lower rating appeared to have little effect on France's financial standing Monday, as the country easily sold €8.6 billion ($10.9 billion) in short-term debt. However, it could seriously impair Sarkozy's bid for re-election this spring.

The president won a further small reprieve Monday, when the Moody's agency confirmed that France would keep its top rating.

At a press conference with the new Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Sarkozy said the rating agencies wouldn't define his policies and called for "calm" in the face of the downgrade.

But he did note that Moody's and Fitch, two of the three major agencies, still give France their highest rating.

The news conference began combatively when Sarkozy refused to answer a question about whether a meeting with Italian Premier Mario Monti and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been canceled or postponed, claiming that the reporter who asked it did not have the latest information.

Sarkozy later said that the three-way meeting on the crisis would happen in February but gave no date. He added that as both he and the German leader had recently met the Italian leader, they saw no need to meet again so soon.

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