Netanyahu backs Lieberman after Sarkozy criticism

By Jessica Elgot, June 30, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has given his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman his full backing, after reports surfaced that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had told Netanyahu to "get rid of" him.

In a meeting with EU ambassadors in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said Lieberman was “fully committed to peace and security” and was an integral part of the government.

He said Lieberman "will play an important role in implementing the policy" presented in his diplomatic speech at Bar-Ilan University last month.

A spokesman for Netanyahu would not confirm or deny the remarks reportedly made by Sarkozy in a meeting with the prime minister in Paris last week.

According to an anonymous senior Israeli government officials, Sarkozy had told Netanyahu, "You need to get rid of this man...You need to remove him from this position."

The French president had also apparently recommended that Netanyahu install opposition leader Tzipi Livni in place of Lieberman.

Lieberman has ordered his subordinates not to publicly respond further to the remarks to prevent diplomatic tensions, one senior Israeli official said.

Last updated: 5:13pm, June 30 2009