Sarkozy tells Obama: Israel prime minister ‘a liar’
BARACK Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy have inadvertently broadcast a private exchange during which they confessed their distaste for Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and branded him a "liar".
The US and French presidents were speaking during an encounter on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Cannes last week without realising that a simultaneous translation of their words was being transmitted to journalists outside the room.
As the conversation drifted to Israel, Mr Sarkozy is reported to have said: “I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar.”
Mr Obama did not challenge the assertion, instead replying: “You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day.”
The exchange provides the most tantalising evidence yet of the growing antipathy with which Mr Netanyahu is said to be held by many Western leaders.
President Obama has had a frequently strained relationship with the Israeli leader. In March last year, Mr Netanyahu was left to stew in a White House meeting room for over an hour after the president allegedly walked out of tense talks to have dinner with his family.
Under pressure from Republicans and supporters of Israel within his own party, Mr Obama has struck a more conciliatory note of late and has strongly backed the Israeli government in its opposition to a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations.
The disclosure of what appear to be his real feelings is almost certain to be picked up by his Republican challengers for the presidency, many of whom have already accused him of “throwing Israel under the bus".
The embarrassing transmission of the conversation is reminiscent of the “Yo Blair” exchange between Tony Blair and George W Bush during the G8 summit in St Petersburg in 2006.
Organisers in Cannes are likely to be as embarrassed as their Russian counterparts by the security breach. It emerged that reporters covering the summit were provided translation devices to hear a press conference the two presidents were to give after their private meeting. Headphones for the devices were withheld until the press conference began.
The precaution was easily circumvented however, with journalists being able to follow the private exchange simply by plugging in their own headphones. They later agreed not to respect the privacy of the conversation, but the comments found their way on to a French website, Arret sur Images, this week and their authenticity has now been confirmed by journalists who heard the exchange.
Mr Netanyahu’s office has declined to comment until it has verified the authenticity of the conversation.
The talks between the two presidents began with Mr Obama complaining that France had not informed Washington of its intention to vote in favour of the Palestinian Authority joining the UN’s cultural arm UNESCO at the end of last month.