PARIS – France has denied that President Nicolas Sarkozy belittled Spain's prime minister during a lunch conversation in which he also allegedly targeted US President Barack Obama and Germany's leader.
The comments - which generated media comment across Europe on Friday - were allegedly made this week during a lunch with parliament members to discuss the global financial crisis.
On Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Sarkozy was quoted as saying: "Perhaps he's not very clever but I know people who were very clever and who did not make the second round of the presidential election."
The alleged comments on Zapatero were relayed by some lawmakers at the lunch to the left-leaning Liberation newspaper, but were denied late Thursday by Sarkozy's office.
Three participants at the lunch also told AFP that Sarkozy did not make the comment.
The Spanish government has not officially responded, but the Spanish media reacted with incredulity to the alleged gaffe by the French president who has a reputation for blunt speaking.
The president also reportedly suggested that the new US president was 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 Liberation. "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.
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.
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso also allegedly came in for blunt criticism, with the French president quoted as saying he had been "totally absent from the G20" summit in London earlier this month.
But Sarkozy did have praise for one EU colleague, noting admiringly that Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had been re-elected three times.
"What is important in democracy is to be reelected," he allegedly said.
The French president's alleged comments were carried Friday by major newspapers across Europe on Friday.
Britain's The Guardian put the story on its front page, headlined: "Dim, callow, irrelevant - Sarko's verdict on fellow leaders."
The Times of London said in an opinion piece that "Sarkozy is annoyed by the adulation for an unproven US leader whose stardom has eclipsed his own record as a world troubleshooter."
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