"No, no. This is stupid," President Nicolas Sarkozy snorted, abruptly unplugging his microphone and calling his press secretary an "imbecile" for setting up an interview with the American television network CBS on a busy day.
The interview at the Elysee Palace, recorded this month and broadcast Sunday, sought to introduce France's head of state to U.S. audiences before his visit to the White House next week.
Americans certainly discovered Sarkozy's impatient side - a side that has been described at length but that is rarely visible in public.
"What an imbecile," Sarkozy said, lifting his eyes to the ceiling, while his spokesman, David Martinon, stands in the background, his arms flapping in frustration.
"O.K. I don't have the time. I have a big job to do. I have a schedule," Sarkozy said through a translator to the stunned interviewer of "60 Minutes," Lesley Stahl. In English, he added: "Very busy. Very busy." Persuaded to return to the set, Sarkozy spoke about his admiration for the United States. But then he abruptly cut short the conversation when he was asked about his then-wife, Cecilia.
"If I had to say something about Cecilia, I would not do so here," Sarkozy shot back, declaring the interview over. "Goodbye," he said and walked off. Unannounced at the time of the recording, the Sarkozys' divorce was made public two weeks ago.
It was that flash of temper that made headlines Monday, rather than Sarkozy's comments on French-American relations. Sarkozy has long had a reputation for a volatile temperament. Last summer he lost patience with a photographer who followed him onto a lake during his family holiday. A former cabinet colleague said this year that Sarkozy once threatened to "smash in" his face during an argument, an allegation the president denied.
During his presidential campaign, Sarkozy himself wrote of his temper in a book published in April that he was "trying to improve with age."
"Experience has taught me not to overreact," he said.
In the CBS interview, Sarkozy reiterated his aim to work closely with Washington while at the same time maintaining France's independence. "I want the Americans to know that they can count on us," he said, "but at the same time, we want to be free to disagree."
The son of a Hungarian immigrant, Sarkozy said he admired the opportunity that existed in America irrespective of background. "That's the reason why I like the United States," he said. "You can have a name like Schwarzenegger and be governor of California. You can be called Madeleine Albright and be secretary of state. You can be called Colin Powell or Condi Rice and succeed."
He said he was "proud" to be nicknamed "Sarko the American" in France. "I love America," he said. ( IHT )