AHMEDABAD, India — Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday he will travel to Paris this week to show solidarity with the French people, following sharp criticism of the Obama administration for not sending a senior official to Sunday’s rally for unity in Paris that was attended by some 40 world leaders and more than a million people.
Kerry said at a news conference that U.S. officials, including himself and President Barack Obama, had been “deeply engaged” with French authorities almost immediately after the first attack occurred and had offered intelligence assistance.
As to criticism about the lack of a senior official at Sunday’s March, Kerry said, “I really think that this is sort of quibbling a little bit,” noting that the U.S. ambassador to France was there, as were “many people from the (U.S.) embassy.”
“As everybody knows, I have been here in India for a prior planned event,” he added. “I would have personally very much wanted to have been there but couldn’t do so because of the commitment that I had here and it is important to keep these kinds of commitments.”
Kerry said he is going to France to reaffirm U.S. solidarity with America’s oldest ally. He said as soon as he heard about the march, he asked his team what the earliest time was that he could go.
“That is why I am going there on the way home and to make it crystal clear how passionately we feel about the events that have taken place there,” he said. “I don’t think he people of France have any doubt about America’s understanding about what happened, about our personal sense of loss and our deep commitment to the people of France in this moment of trial.”
While in Paris, Kerry will be meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and pay tribute to the victims of last week’s attacks, which killed 17 people. Kerry is a fluent French speaker, has a well-known affinity for France and has visited Paris more than a dozen times since becoming secretary of state.
Kerry will arrive in Paris on Thursday after stops in Sofia, Bulgaria and Geneva, Switzerland. In Geneva, on Wednesday Kerry will he meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif to discuss the status of nuclear negotiations that are to resume the next day.
Kerry will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit France since the terrorist attacks on a French newspaper and a kosher supermarket. Authorities say one of those involved in the attacks pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in a video. He and two other suspected extremists were killed during police raids.
“I want to emphasize that the relationship with France is not about one day or one particular moment,” Kerry said. “It is an ongoing longtime relationship that is deeply, deeply based in the shared values, and particularly the commitment that we share to freedom of expression.”
“No single act of terror, no two people with a AK-47s, no hostage-taking at a grocery store is ever going to prevent those who are committed to the march for freedom to continue to march and to ultimately see all people enjoy their rights, to be able to enjoy the protections that come with that freedom,” he said.
The U.S. ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, was the top American official at Sunday’s unity march against barbarity.
Millions demonstrated across France, and rallies supporting the French were reported in major cities around the world.
Obama offered condolences last week at the French Embassy in Washington. “We stand united with our French brothers to ensure that justice is done and our way of life is defended,” he said.
Kerry was in the Indian city of Ahmedabad on Sunday for a long-scheduled appearance at an international investment conference, and to prepare for President Barack Obama’s trip to India later this month.
MATTHEW LEE, AP Diplomatic Writer