Sarkozy: Netanyahu's a liar.
Obama: I have to deal with him every day.

By Joe Murphy | London Evening Standard | November 8, 2011

Presidents Nicolas Sarcozy and Barack Obama

Nicolas Sarkozy was plunged into a diplomatic storm today after describing the prime minister of Israel as a liar.

The remark about Benjamin Netanyahu was made privately to President Obama at the G20 summit but was picked up by a radio microphone. "I can't bear to see him any more, he's a liar," Mr Sarkozy said in French.

Mr Obama's reply was almost as embarrassing. "You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day."

The pair were caught out in just the same way as Gordon Brown during the last general election when he was overheard describing a woman voter as a "bigot."

Their microphones were left running after a press conference as they retired to a private room during the summit in Cannes where world leaders had gathered to try to sort out the economic crises.

The exchange was accidentally overheard by journalists listening on headphones who agreed to a demand from the French president's office to keep the remarks private.

However, hints of the conversation gradually leaked out and they were finally published in full this morning in Jerusalem papers.

The incident happened after Mr Obama used the meeting to upbraid Mr Sarkozy for voting in favour of the recent Palestinian bid for full membership of the UN cultural organisation, Unesco. Israel and America fiercely opposed it.

A day after the conversation, Mr Sarkozy made comments that were supportive of Israel.

He condemned Iran's nuclear programme and vowed that France would act if Israel's security is threatened. In the past, Mr Sarkozy has hinted that France could recognise Palestinian statehood without waiting for a comprehensive peace agreement. He has, however, fully supported the two-state solution that requires Israel to be secure.

One French journalist told the website Arręt Sur Images that the conversation was picked up for around three minutes before officials realised the mistake. A spokesman for Mr Netanyahu declined to comment on the report.

David Cameron's spokesman said Mr Netanyahu was "an important partner" in Middle East issues but that Britain did not agree with him on everything.

"We think Israel needs to stop settlement building and return to talks," he said.

"But the Prime Minister considers him [Netanyahu] to be an important partner in managing critical regional issues."