French minister dismisses fuss over Sarkozy remark

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The Independent Online

France's foreign minister brushed off a controversy over comments by President Nicolas Sarkozy about the Spanish prime minister, saying the remarks had been misinterpreted and relations with Spain were excellent.

"There are few people with whom we get on as well as with the Spanish. We've had the same positions for the past two years," Kouchner told France Info radio, before a visit to Spain by Sarkozy next week.



"I assure you there is not the shadow of a cloud."



Sarkozy's words, reported in French daily Liberation last week, stirred a flurry of press comment in Spain, even though they appeared to be directed more at Sarkozy's own Socialist rivals than at Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero.



Responding to comments from an apparently sceptical Socialist deputy attending a lunch meeting, who said "You can say a lot of things about Zapatero", Sarkozy was reported by Liberation to have retorted:



"He may not be very intelligent. I know people who were very intelligent and who didn't make it to the second round of the presidential election," apparently referring to Lionel Jospin, the failed Socialist candidate in the 2002 election.



He went on to add: "In my political career, I've often beaten people who were supposed to be more intelligent and who had better academic records than me."



The remarks were denied by Sarkozy's office but were widely reported in the Spanish and British press, which said Sarkozy had described Zapatero as "not very intelligent".



The controversy was further fuelled when Segolene Royal, Sarkozy's failed rival in the 2007 presidential election, offered an apology to Zapatero for Sarkozy's comments.



Kouchner dismissed her intervention.



"What I can guarantee is that it was a joke on the part of the president, a manner of making fun of the person he was talking to as he often does," Kouchner said.



"But above all what I can guarantee - last night, I was talking to my Spanish counterpart Miguel Moratinos - there is a very good understanding, very, very good, a real camaraderie."

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