Sarkozy Call for Lieberman Ouster Draws Accusations of Meddling

Charging that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is interfering in Israel's internal affairs, sources close to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman went on the offensive yesterday following a report on Channel 2 that the French leader had urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to replace Lieberman with Kadima head Tzipi Livni.

"If this report is correct then this is an unacceptable interference in internal Israeli affairs," a statement read from Lieberman's office yesterday.

Udi Segal of Channel 2 reported yesterday that Sarkozy discussed in detail the domestic political situation in Israel and the coalition government during his meeting with Netanyahu last Wednesday.

Even though three other Israelis were in the room at the time - including Ministers Yuval Steinitz and Gilad Erdan, and Labor MK Daniel Ben-Simon - the French President did not hesitate to express his views on Lieberman.

Sarkozy told Netanyahu that, "you must get rid of that man. Get him out and bring Livni in. With her and with Barak you can make history."

Netanyahu said that "during private meetings he [Lieberman] sounds differently."

Sarkozy did not let up and responded by saying that "in private talks [French nationalist politician] Jean-Marie Le Pen is a very nice man."

Netanyahu protested the parallel that the French leader was drawing. "Lieberman is not Le Pen and there is no room for comparison," he reportedly said.

"I am not trying to make a comparison," Sarkozy was quick to respond.

The lead story in Monday's Israel Hayom quotes Sarkozy as telling Netanyahu during their recent meeting that the Kadima leader failed to take the good of the country into account when she decided not to join the Likud-led government.

"After Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan University speech," the paper quotes Sarkozy as saying, "Livni should have rallied round."

The Prime Minister's Bureau refused yesterday to comment on the report, but also did not refute them.

However, Lieberman's office responded strongly to the report. "If what is attributed to the French president is true, then the interference of the President of a respectable democratic country in the affairs of another democratic country is a serious and unacceptable development," a statement read. "We expect that irrespective of political viewpoints, every political grouping in Israel will condemn this blatant interference of a foreign country in our internal affairs."