- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 8, 2011

PARIS (AP) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has labored to improve French relations with Israel, said he “can’t stand” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called him a liar in a conversation with President Obama.

The conversation between Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Obama was overheard by reporters last week at the Group of 20 summit in southern France, via headsets that were to be used for simultaneous translation of an upcoming news conference.

Mr. Obama, whose remarks were heard via a French translation, was not heard objecting to Mr. Sarkozy‘s characterization of Mr. Netanyahu. Through the interpreter, Mr. Obama was heard asking Mr. Sarkozy to help persuade the Palestinians to stop their efforts to gain U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.

Several French-speaking journalists, including one from the Associated Press, overheard the comments but did not initially report them because staff members of Mr. Sarkozy’s office had asked the journalists not to turn on the headsets until the press conference began, and the comments were deemed private under French media traditions.

A French website that analyzes media coverage of current affairs, Arret sur images, reported the fragments Tuesday.

Mr. Sarkozy‘s office would not comment Tuesday on the remarks or on France’s relations with Israel. The White House and Mr. Netanyahu’s spokesman also said they had no comment.

In the remarks Thursday in Cannes, Mr. Sarkozy said: “Netanyahu, I can’t stand him. He’s a liar.”

According to the French interpreter, Mr. Obama responded: “You are sick of him, but I have to work with him every day.”

The journalists heard only fragments of the leaders’ conversation.

Since becoming president in 2007, Mr. Sarkozy has strengthened French ties with Israel while also seeking to use France’s traditional good relations with Arab allies to encourage peace talks.

His latest comments reflect increasing frustration with Mr. Netanyahu in recent months and may complicate French and European efforts toward Mideast peace.

Mr. Sarkozy has shown little patience with Israeli hard-liners, and two years ago urged Mr. Netanyahu to fire his outspoken foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman. In a private meeting, Mr. Sarkozy told Mr. Netanyahu that “you must get rid of that man,” according to two officials.

In September of this year, the French leader tried to head off the Palestinians’ request for membership in the United Nations with a last-minute effort to revive peace talks.

But France then surprised Washington and other observers by voting last week in favor of membership for Palestine in UNESCO, the U.N. cultural and educational agency.



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