Tom's visit raises queries

PARIS — Did France’s President Jacques Chirac snub Tom Cruise?

That was the claim Tuesday, as France’s political classes got their undergarments in a twist over Tom Cruise’s recent schmooze with another Gallic politico, Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

In a much publicized visit during his trip to promote “Collateral,” Cruise took a boat ride down the Seine to meet Sarkozy at the Finance Ministry’s waterside HQ. Officials said they talked about cinema and Franco-American relations before Cruise headed off, having invited the minister and his family to visit Cruise’s Colorado ranch.

In published photos of the two, the finance supremo wears a cheesy can-this-be-true grin almost as wide as Cruise’s.

But what, exactly, was the thesp up to? After all, while hobnobbing with the culture minister is sometimes on the agenda, Hollywood stars tend not to make a beeline for the ministry of finance.

“Sarko,” as the minister is known in France, insisted Cruise sought the meeting. But armchair theoreticians had their own ideas this week.

Many thought the visit was a publicity stunt for the attention-seeking minister, who plans to run for the presidency in 2007 and is constantly seeking to outdo incumbent President Jacques Chirac.

Others suggested Cruise was an envoy on behalf of the Church of Scientology. Scientologists could use influential friends in France, where it is considered a dangerous sect and has been hauled before the courts.

As anti-Scientologist campaigners attacked the finance minister for his Cruise schmooze this week, the last laugh went to Chirac. According to the daily Liberation, in an article cheekily titled “Tom Cruise also wanted to convert Chirac,” the president’s people “leaked” that he, too, had been approached about a visit from Cruise — but had thought better of the idea and turned the star down.

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