November 9, 2011. Cannes, France. While meeting in Cannes, France for the G20 Summit, a private discussion between US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy was overheard by French journalists.
Sarkozy and Obama at G20 Summit in France. Image courtesy of RT News.
The two state leaders were unaware their comments could be heard by French reporters using the event’s translation headphones. The private conversation occurred moments before a joint press conference by the US and French Presidents. Overheard by the group of French reporters were sentiments of disdain and distrust of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. President Sarkozy went so far as to call the Israeli leader, “a liar”.
For a week, the French media was able to keep the story blacked-out in an attempt to shield the French President from embarrassment. But when an independent, online, French media outlet finally published the story, the rest of the world's media followed. While the French report only made a generic mentioned of the disdainful comments, Israeli news outlets jumped on the story and immediately published the statements of the two leaders. Reporters for Reuters and AP, both of who were also at the press conference confirmed not only that the reports were true, but that the comments by Sarkozy and Obama of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu were quite harsh.
The two Presidents were preparing for a news conference that was going to occur moments later. French President Sarkozy was aware the mics were on – he specifically asked the group of gathered reporters to leave their headsets turned off until the press conference was starting. In France, such a request is traditionally honored, much like in the US where politicians often make comments ‘off the record’. But the Sarkozy-Obama exchange proved too juicy to ignore.
As reported by the journalists present, US President Obama was urging French President Sarkozy to reconsider his country’s support for the recognition of Palestine within the United Nations. Israel and the United States currently stand virtually alone against much of the world over Middle East peace. Israel and the US insist Palestine will only be granted its national statehood on Israel’s terms. The Palestinians argue they’ve spent two generations urging Israel to negotiate in good faith, only to be mired down on a seemingly endless road to peace.
On September 23, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN delivering his nation’s official request for recognition and admission into the world body. Read the Whiteout Press article, ‘Palestinian Statehood Speech to the UN, Full and Official Text’ for details. Since that day, Israel has stepped up pressure, announcing the approval of thousands of new illegal settlements. The move was immediately criticized by US officials.
For their part, when UNESCO, the UN agency that maintains the Pacific Ocean’s tsunami early warning system, voted to admit the Palestinians, the US Congress immediately voted to pull its funding of the group in protest. While the US representative voted against the Palestinians, the French delegate sided with the vast majority and voted for their inclusion. It was that vote the President Obama was talking about to President Sarkozy, attempting to reverse France’s position.
In response, French President Sarkozy is reported to have said of the Israeli Prime Minister, “Netanyahu, I can't stand to see him anymore. He's a liar.” In response, US President Obama replied, “You’re sick of him. But me, I have to work with him every day."
Neither Obama nor Sarkozy have friendly relationships with Prime Minister Netanyahu. In May, the Israeli Prime Minister lectured President Obama during a White House visit while cameras rolled. While President Obama painfully bore the on-air attack, Netanyahu criticized what he considered the US President’s ignorance over Middle East peace. The Israeli Prime Minister has also made no secret of his support for the Republican Party and its candidates in the US.
Returning the favor, GOP Presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney wasted no time picking up the bull horn on behalf of his pro-Israel supporters. In a statement released only hours ago, the former Massachusetts Governor said:
“President Obama’s derisive remarks about Israel’s prime minister confirm what any observer would have gleaned from his public statements and actions toward our longstanding ally, Israel. At a moment when the Jewish state is isolated and under threat, we cannot have an American president who is disdainful of our special relationship with Israel. We have here yet another reason why we need new leadership in the White House.”
The UK’s Guardian reports that in France, the Sarkozy administration secretly blames Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for the lack of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. In his comments yesterday, French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bernard Valero reiterated his country’s frustration with the Middle East peace process, “In our relationship with Israel, as with our relationship with the Palestinians, what we want is to continue to work so that things move ahead, because they're not moving ahead.”
All three nations, Israel, France and the US, are headed for a showdown in the UN over the recognition of Palestine. The US supports Israel and has pledged to veto any official recognition of statehood for Palestine. On the opposite side, France sides with the majority of the world’s nations in support of recognition of the Palestinian nation. America’s veto power only extends so far however. If the full United Nations body votes to recognize Palestine as a free and sovereign nation, the US and Israel have already announced they will refuse to recognize or acknowledge Palestine’s sovereignty.
The crisis between Israel and Iran is another issue. Read the Whiteout Press article, ‘Israel Preparing to Launch Nuclear War’ for details. When the nuclear watchdog IAEA announced that Iran was moving forward with plans to develop nuclear weapons, Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, expressed support for a nuclear strike against Iran’s reactor. The US and France have instead pushed for stronger sanctions against the Iranian people. Both countries, France and the US, have confirmed their pledge to defend Israel if the Jewish state is attacked. Speaking at the same G20 summit, President Sarkozy reaffirmed that if Israel’s existence is threatened, “France will not stand by with arms crossed.”
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