Sarkozy pledges "friendship" to Netanyahu after gaffe

Mon Nov 14, 2011 9:11pm GMT

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

(Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy has written to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reaffirm friendship despite what he refers to as their "differing views on the Middle East," Israeli officials said on Monday.

Sarkozy's comments, in a condolence message to Netanyahu for the death of his father-in-law, seemed an effort to try to clear the air a week after a reported gaffe this month at the G20 summit in Cannes, when he was overheard telling U.S. President Barack Obama he thought Netanyahu was "a liar".

In addition to words of sympathy, Sarkozy's letter to Netanyahu, according to two officials in the Israeli leader's office, said:

"You have my friendship, and our differing views on the problems of the Middle East, and the interpretations appearing in the media, have no effect on it."

Reports last week said Sarkozy had told Obama, unaware that they were being overhead by journalists listening to the simultaneous translation of their November 3 meeting: "I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar."

According to the French interpreter, Obama replied: "You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more than you."

Obama also sent condolences for the death of Shmuel Ben-Artzi, father of Netanyahu's wife, Sara, who died a week ago in Jerusalem. Obama's message made no mention of the remarks made in Cannes.

Obama and Netanyahu have had a rocky relationship but Obama was seen as eager to avoid any open confrontation with Israel ahead of a campaign for reelection next year for which he will need votes from Jewish voters.   Continued...

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy attends a meeting with timber industry members in Egletons, central France, April 28, 2011.  REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
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