French Ambassador

Wednesday December 19 11:28 AM ET

Envoy Can't Remember Insult

LONDON (Reuters) - France's ambassador to Britain cannot remember referring to Israel as "that shitty little country" during a private conversation with a newspaper owner, his spokesman said on Wednesday.

The spokesman said the ambassador, Daniel Bernard, was shocked to see media reports of a private dinner conversation he had had with Conrad Black, owner of the Daily Telegraph, which attributed the remark to him and depicted him as anti-Semitic.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman said the remark -- if correctly reported -- would be anti-Semitic, while the French Foreign Ministry dismissed the media reports of the incident as "malevolent insinuations."

The conversation took place at a buffet party at Black's London home at the end of last week.

Black's wife, journalist Barbara Amiel, wrote in her column in the Telegraph on Monday that "an ambassador of a major EU country" said the whole of the current international security crisis could be blamed on "that shitty little country Israel."

Subsequent press reports named Bernard as the ambassador responsible.

"He doesn't remember saying that," the ambassador's spokesman, Yves Charpentier, told Reuters on Wednesday.