French President Nicolas Sarkozy has written to Prime Minister Binyamin 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 US President Barack Obama he thought Netanyahu was "a liar".
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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 Nov. 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
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the two of you," he wrote, according to the Israeli officials.
Netanyahu had made no comment on Sarkozy's comments which came at a time
Israel's ties with Paris had otherwise vastly improved after decades of
tensions over France's close alliances with Arab countries.
Differences between Israel and much of Europe have surfaced anew though
as a Quartet of Middle East power brokers comprised of the European
Union, United States, Russia and United Nations have sought
unsuccessfully so far, to renew moribund peace talks between Israel and
European diplomats have blamed Israel for the breakdown in talks last
year over Jewish settlement building in West Bank territory Palestinians
seek for a state.
France also angered both Israel and the US last month by voting in favor
of a Palestinain request for membership in the U.N. cultural heritage
agency UNESCO last month, appearing to boost a Palestinian bid for
recognition of their state.
Sarkozy has since then pledged France would not take any unilateral
decisions when the UN Security Council takes up the Palestinians
membership request this month.