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Sarkozy overheard saying he can't stand Israel's Netanyahu

Nicolas Sarkozy was talking to the US president, Barack Obama, at the G20 summit in France and was overheard saying he 'can't stand' Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier, and called him a liar.

PARIS // The French president has been overheard saying he "can't stand" Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier, and called him a liar.

Nicolas Sarkozy was talking to the US president, Barack Obama, on Thursday at the Group of 20 summit in France.

The were overheard while using headsets that would translate a news conference.

Mr Obama was heard asking Mr Sarkozy to help persuade the Palestinians to stop their efforts to gain United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state.

Several French-speaking journalists overheard the comments but did not report them because Mr Sarkozy's office had asked the journalists not to turn on the headsets until the press conference began, and the comments were deemed private under French media traditions.

A French website that analyses media coverage of current affairs, Arret Sur Images, reported the conversation yesterday.

Mr Sarkozy's office would not comment on the remarks or on France's relations with Israel.

The White House and Mr Netanyahu's spokesman also said they had no comment.

Mr Sarkozy said: "Netanyahu, I can't stand him. He's a liar."

Mr Obama allegedly responded: "You are sick of him, but I have to work with him every day."

The journalists heard only fragments of the conversation.

"Obama is wrong," wrote one reader on the Israeli newspaper Haaretz's web site.

"We're the ones that have to deal with him every day." The often blunt Mr Sarkozy has shown little patience with Israeli hard-liners. Two years ago he urged Mr Netanyahu to fire his outspoken foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

His latest comments reflect his increasing frustration with Mr Netanyahu, and may complicate French efforts toward Middle East peace. France's government has not said so officially but appears to see Mr Netanyahu as partially responsible for the deadlock in peace talks. France has repeatedly urged Mr Netanyahu to stop building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and come to the negotiating table.

"I think all this must not make us lose sight of the basics - which is to say there's not a minute to lose to continue to work on the Israeli-Palestinian issue," French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said yesterday.

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