Kerry, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit France since the attacks on a Jewish grocery story and the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, embraced French President Francois Hollande, met with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and deployed his fluent French in a live televised address.
“I think you know that you have the full and heartfelt condolences of the American people, and I know you know that we share the pain and the horror of everything that you went through,” Kerry told Hollande at an early morning meeting on Friday at the presidential palace in Paris. In his address, he touched on the two countries’ historic ties and invoked their strength in the face of terror.
Speaking inside the the Hôtel de Ville, the 17th-century city hall, Kerry was joined by American singer James Taylor, a longtime friend, who performed “You’ve Got a Friend” in tribute. Taylor wove in a few bars of the French national anthem, âLa Marseillaise,â at the beginning and threw in the song’s title in French toward the end.
The Obama administration has been criticized for not sending a high-level official to the march in Paris last Sunday that drew about 40 world leaders and more than a million French to honor victims of the attacks centered on the satirical magazine and a kosher supermarket.
Kerry, who was tied up with travel to India, initially dismissed the U.S. absence from the march as “quibbling.” President Barack Obama’s spokesman later said the administration had erred in not sending someone of higher rank than the U.S. ambassador to France.
French officials who weren’t authorized to be identified said the U.S. absence from the march was never an issue for them and that the onerous security demands that Americans impose would have made it impractical to send a high-ranking official such as Obama or Vice President Joe Biden.
Kerry, the son of a diplomat whose family has longtime ties to France, encountered no rancor among Parisians who lined the streets leading to the city hall, and they clustered to watch as he visited the sites of both terror attacks.
He laid wreaths at the grocery store where three people were killed and then at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, where gunmen shot dead editors and cartoonists.
The sidewalks at both sites were choked with flowers interspersed with burning candles and signs declaring “Je Suis Hyper Cacher,” the name of the grocery, and “Je Suis Charlie.” Outside the magazine, Kerry walked by scattered pencils that have become international graphite-and-wood symbols of free speech in the days after the killings.
Kerry walked the short distance from the magazine’s offices to the spot where the gunmen shot wounded policeman Ahmed Mirabet at point-blank range. The American official stood for a minute in silence before adding a large bouquet of roses to the floral tributes piled there.
“We watched the people of France come together with great sense of purpose and unity,” Kerry told Hollande. “It was a great lesson to the world.”
Hollande told Kerry at the start of their meeting that the U.S. has “known what terrorism is for years.” That means “we must therefore work together to find the necessary responses, and that’s the point of today’s meeting, beyond the friendship that it represents,” Hollande said.
The top U.S. diplomat, who’s making his 19th visit to Paris since becoming secretary of state, arrived on Thursday evening. He spent the afternoon meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on international talks aimed at curbing Iranâs nuclear program in exchange for relaxing economic sanctions against the country.
At city hall, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told the crowd and Kerry that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio “called me immediately” upon hearing of the attacks and that she received “many” messages from American officials.
Kerry, who spoke first in English and then at greater length in French, told the crowd that while the attacks had raised “passionate debates about the complex issues” that drove them, “what was intended to tear us apart has brought us together.”