WASHINGTON - In diplomacy, as in politics, there are plenty of cases in which a world leader has been caught unaware on a “hot’’ microphone. There have been fewer, if any, in which that leader has been caught calling another an outright liar.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France takes the prize.
Sarkozy, in Cannes for the G-20 summit last week, believed he was speaking privately with President Obama when he reportedly described how frustrating he finds Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. But their microphones were on, and the conversation was picked up by reporters listening to a simultaneous translation.
“I cannot bear Netanyahu; he’s a liar,’’ Sarkozy told Obama, according to the Reuters news agency, whose reporter was among those who heard the exchange.
“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,’’ Obama replied, according to a French interpreter.
The Associated Press, which also had a reporter present, said news outlets “did not initially report the [remarks] because they were deemed private under French media traditions.’’
A French website, Arret sur images, published a report late Monday, and the news agencies - not to mention the rest of the French-speaking world - have joined in.
It was unclear what prompted Sarkozy to lash out, but the French have made little secret of their frustration with Israel’s decision to expand settlements in the West Bank. At the United Nations in September, Sarkozy called for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations to begin within a month and for the General Assembly to set a one-year deadline for talks to yield an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Last week, France voted to support membership for Palestine in UNESCO, despite US pressure to the contrary.