The White House would not deny or confirm on Tuesday the reports of a conversation between President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in which the latter called Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “a liar.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said he had no comment on the conversation or about Obama’s response, when asked about it by reporters traveling with Obama to an event in Philadelphia.
CNN reported that Carney chose instead to address the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, saying, “The president’s position has been quite clear on the issue of efforts by the Palestinians to achieve through the UN what can only be achieved effectively through direct negotiations.”
The conversation between the French and American presidents took place last week in a private room after a press conference at the G20 summit in Cannes.
The two did not know that their microphones were open and that reporters outside still were wearing their headphones they had used to hear simultaneous translations of President Obama’s remarks in public.
Sarkozy reportedly told Obama about Netanyahu: “I cannot stand him. He is a liar,” to which Obama replied, “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day!”
The French Web site Arret sur Images published the conversation.
Senator John McCain, who ran against Obama for the presidency in 2008, criticized the exchange on Tuesday, saying Obama’s remarks reflected his administration’s attitude towards Israel.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said it was “deeply disappointed and saddened” by the private conversation, warning that it could hurt ties between Israel and two key players in the Middle East peace process.
“President Obama’s response to Mr. Sarkozy implies that he agrees with the French leader,” ADL Director Abe Foxman said in a written statement quoted by CNN. “In light of the revelations here, we hope that the Obama administration will do everything it can to reassure Israel that the relationship remains on a sure footing and to reinvigorate the trust between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, which clearly is not what it should be.”