Obama declines to discuss Netanyahu 'hot mic' row
US President Barack Obama Sunday refused to discuss an overheard conversation he was party to in which French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Israel's leader Benjamin Netanyahu a "liar."
In the chat picked up by an open microphone at this month's G20 summit in France, Obama also appeared to how show frustration with the Israeli prime minister, with whom he has had a tense relationship.
"With respect to the 'hot mic' in France, I'm not going to comment on conversations that I have with individual leaders," Obama said.
But at a press conference in Hawaii after an Asia-Pacific summit, Obama went on to say he had a "frank and firm" conversation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy about France's vote to allow the Palestinians to join the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
"I had consistently made the argument that the only way we're going to solve the Middle East situation is if Palestinians and Israelis sit down at the table and negotiate; that it is not going to work to try to do an end run through the United Nations."
The open mic incident, first reported by a French blog, turned into an embarrassment for the White House and ammunition for political critics who see Obama as too tough on Israel and in danger of losing the US Jewish vote.
The private conversation was overheard by a number of journalists after it was inadvertently transmitted over a system used for translation, media website Arret sur Images reported.
Sarkozy was reported as saying of Netanyahu to Obama in French: "I can't stand him anymore, he's a liar."
"You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day," Obama replied in comments that were translated into French.
© 2011 AFP