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Sarkozy To Netanyahu: Fire Avigdor Lieberman

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JERUSALEM — French president Nicolas Sarkozy urged the Israeli prime minister to fire his foreign minister _ a hard-liner whose party tried to force Israelis to take a loyalty oath, two senior Israeli officials said Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's appointment has been ill-received internationally because of his hard-line positions on peace and Israel's Arab population, among other issues. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing EU ambassadors on Tuesday, expressed "full confidence" in the country's chief diplomat.

"He is a man who is fully committed to peace and security for our country," Netanyahu said. "He is part of the democratically elected government of Israel which was elected with a clear mandate from the voters to achieve peace and security."

In the meeting last week, Sarkozy told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that "you must get rid of that man," the two officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the contents of private conversations.

In May, Lieberman's party unsuccessfully tried to advance a proposal to strip the citizenship of Israelis who do not pledge loyalty to the state _ a proposal viewed as aimed at Israel's Arab minority.

Lieberman has also harshly criticized the U.S.-led peace talks launched by former President George W. Bush in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2007.

Netanyahu told the French leader that in private meetings Lieberman "sounds differently" than he does in political speeches but Sarkozy retorted that in private talks Jean-Marie Le Pen _ the far-right French politician _ is "a very nice man," the officials said.

Sarkozy suggested the more moderate former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as a replacement, the officials said.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said he would not comment beyond remarks provided by Sarkozy's office after the meeting with Netanyahu. There was no mention of Lieberman in that briefing.

"If the things attributed to the French president are true, then the interference of the president of a respected democratic country in the affairs of a different democratic country is very serious and intolerable," Lieberman's spokesman Tzahi Moshe said.

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