French President Nicolas Sarkozy met for lunch today in with leaders of the French Jewish community, and said that his description of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu as a liar “was taken out of context.” The meeting was held at the the Élysée Palace in Paris.
Sarkozy made the comment during a private conversation with Obama during a G20 summit in the French riviera town of Cannes earlier this month and the remarks were overheard by a small number of journalists but not initially reported.
“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama replied, according to wire service reports.
“I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama during a frank exchange where the U.S. president took him to task for backing a Palestinian request for membership of the UN cultural heritage agency UNESCO.
“The President reaffirmed his friendship and support for the state of Israel from the very beginning of our conversation,” Francis Kalifat, one of the Jewish community leaders, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Kalifat added that Sarkozy also stressed his “strong, long relationship and friendship with Netanyahu and his family,” and “expressed his firm desire to move beyond the misunderstanding.”
Kalifat told JTA that Sarkozy provided a number of explanations for his remarks about Netanyahu, but asked the Jewish leaders not to publicize them.