Sarkozy slams Gates as bitter retiree
French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivered a scathing parting shot to outgoing US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, saying his criticism of the NATO alliance reflected the "bitterness" of a future retiree.
Sarkozy hit back at Gates two weeks after the US defence chief rebuked European allies for their reliance on US military might, warning that they were putting the Libya mission and NATO's very future at risk.
"Mr Gates was heading towards retirement and it gave him pleasure" to criticise the alliance, Sarkozy told a news conference after a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels.
"You can't blame someone who's retiring for showing bitterness," he said.
"His retirement caused him to not clearly see what was going on in Libya," the clearly offended French leader said, adding that "it was particularly inappropriate for Gates to say this. Plus, it was completely false."
Gates, who retires next week, painted a bleak picture of the state of the transatlantic alliance during his last visit to Brussels, saying NATO risked a "dismal" future after years of shrinking budgets.
"The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country -- yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference," Gates said in a June 10 speech.
The air war in Libya was launched by a coalition led by the United States, France and Britain on March 19.
NATO took command of the mission on March 31, but only eight of 28 alliance members are taking part in the air strikes, with Britain and France carrying the load while the United States provides key refuelling and intelligence support.
© 2011 AFP