Sarkozy: Netanyahu 'liar' gaffe was misunderstood

By Jennifer Lipman, November 25, 2011

The French president has attempted to smooth the waters after his comments criticising Israel's Prime Minister were overheard by reporters.

Earlier this month Nicolas Sarkozy and President Barack Obama were left red-faced when it emerged that the former had complained that Benjamin Netanyahu was a liar.

The private conversation, at a G20 summit in Cannes, saw Mr Sarkozy say he could not "stand" Mr Netanyahu.

President Obama was heard to reply: "You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day."

Mr Sarkozy told a group of French Jewish communal leaders from the umbrella group CRIF that his remarks had been taken out of context and that there were "certain explanations" for them. He maintained that he had a "strong and long" relationship with Mr Netanyahu and claimed that his remarks were taken out of context. He said he was committed to moving beyond the misunderstanding.

Francis Kalifat, the treasurer of CRIF, said Mr Sarkozy had "responded to a lot of our concerns".

"The president reaffirmed his friendship and support for the state of Israel from the very beginning of our conversation. He wanted to remind us that throughout his political career, he has had a profound attachment to Israel."

The meeting also saw Mr Sarkozy questioned on France's support of the successful Palestinian bid to join UNESCO. According to Mr Kalifat, the president "said in a firm manner, that France…would do everything to block any downplaying of the Jewish presence and characteristic" of Jewish cultural sites in Palestinian areas.

Last updated: 10:46am, November 25 2011