Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement defending his ultranationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (photo, at left) following Israeli media reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Netanyahu to fire Lieberman.
REUTERS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "to get rid of" Israel's ultranationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli media reports said on Tuesday.
Sarkozy's office had no immediate comment on the remarks Israeli newspapers and Channel 2 television attributed to him from his talks last Wednesday in Paris with Netanyahu. "You must get rid of this person," the Haaretz newspaper and Ynet website quoted Sarkozy as telling Netanyahu.
Netanyahu's office issued a statement saying "in light of the latest media reports", the prime minister voiced his "full confidence" in Lieberman during a meeting with ambassadors from European Union countries.
The reports said Sarkozy compared Lieberman, accused of racism by Israeli Arab lawmakers, with French far-rightist Jean Marie Le Pen, but retracted the remark after Netanyahu countered that the foreign minister left a different impression in private conversations.
A spokesman for Lieberman, leader of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, said that if Sarkozy made the comments, they would amount to "intolerable" meddling in Israeli affairs.
Lieberman has angered Israel's Arab minority by questioning their loyalty to the Jewish state and suggesting some of their towns be ceded to Palestinian jurisdiction in exchange for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The reports about Sarkozy's purported remarks put a spotlight on a rift between Israel and the West over Netanyahu's rejection of calls for a total halt to Jewish settlement building.
Lieberman, himself a settler, has said settlements are no obstacle to peace.
Date created : 2009-06-30