Sarkozy skewered despite denying Obama, Zapatero slights
The French president, who has a reputation for blunt talking, reportedly suggested that the new US leader was seriously lacking in hands-on experience of government and not yet up to speed.
Paris -- Despite staunch denials, French President Nicolas Sarkozy came under attack Friday for allegedly saying US leader Barack Obama was not "up to standard" and Spain's premier not very bright.
"Dim, callow, irrelevant -- Sarko's verdict on fellow leaders" said Britain's The Guardian, while The Times called him a "bitchy little princess" and Spain's ABC said he "confirmed his superiority complex has no limits."
The media buzz was sparked by a French press report that Sarkozy let rip at fellow world leaders during a lunch on Wednesday with parliament members to discuss the global financial crisis.
The French president, who has a reputation for blunt talking, reportedly suggested that the new US president was seriously lacking in hands-on experience of government and not yet up to speed.
"Obama has a subtle mind, very clever and very charismatic," Sarkozy was quoted as saying by a parliamentarian in the left-wing Liberation daily. "But he was elected two months ago and had never run a ministry.
"And he is not always up to standard on decision-making and efficiency," he reportedly said.
On Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, he was quoted as saying over dessert: "Perhaps he's not very clever but I know people who were very clever and who didn't make the second round of the presidential election."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was also allegedly targeted, with the French president reportedly saying she merely followed his lead in her response to the global crisis.
"Once she realised the state of her banks and her car industry, she had no choice but to come round to my position," he was quoted as saying.
But Sarkozy did have praise for one EU colleague, noting admiringly that Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had been re-elected three times.
Sarkozy's office went into damage control mode late Thursday, saying "the Elysee denies the remarks reported by Liberation," and several parliamentarians present at the lunch said they were taken out of context.
Centrist senator Jean Arthuis told AFP that the comments were playful and that "I did not sense in Sarkozy the slightest critical element towards Obama or Zapatero."
But that failed to stem the tide of Internet and press comment on the latest alleged example of tactlessness by a leader nicknamed the "hyper-president" by friends and foes alike.
The Spanish government has not officially responded, but the Spanish media reacted with incredulity to the alleged gaffe.
La Vanguardia daily's headline read "Sarkozy humiliates Zapatero."
"It does not seem like the best way to prepare a state visit," it noted drily, referring to Sarkozy's planned trip to France's southern neighbour later this month.
Italy's La Republicca wrote of "Sarkozy's gaffe," while The Times of London opined that "Sarkozy is annoyed by the adulation for an unproven US leader whose stardom has eclipsed his own record as a world troubleshooter."
The same paper's diplomatic editor wrote in a separate article that "the arrival of a new -- taller, more handsome and popular -- president on the scene (has turned) him into (a) kind of bitchy little princess."
The New York Times' story was titled "3 Courses With Sarkozy, Skewered Leaders on Side."