Secretary of State John Kerry, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit France since Islamic militant attacks in Paris left 17 dead, met with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and French President Francois Hollande to offer condolences this morning.
Kerry, who said he was in France “to share a big hug with Paris,” is also set to lay wreaths at the sites of the two attacks, a State Department official said. Kerry and Hollande embraced as they met in the courtyard of the presidential palace.
“The American people watched you and your team lead with great elegance and grace, and we watched the people of France come together with great sense of purpose and unity,” Kerry said. “It was a great lesson to the world.”
Kerry, who is making his 19th visit to Paris since becoming secretary of state, arrived in Paris on Thursday evening and will be joined by American singer James Taylor, a longtime friend, who will perform a song in tribute to victims of the attacks that killed 17 people.
The Obama administration has been criticized for not sending a high-level official to a march in Paris that drew about 40 world leaders and more than a million French to honor victims of the attacks centered on a satirical magazine and a kosher supermarket.
“You have known what terrorism is for years,” Hollande told Kerry at the start of the meeting. “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.”
Kerry, who speaks French but 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.
Speaking in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Thursday, Kerry was asked if his presence was meant to make amends.
“I don’t feel any other exigencies other than the continuation of our friendship and our responsibilities as good friends and the longest ally in our history,” he said. “That’s why I’m going.”
Taylor, who’s in Paris promoting his European concert tour later this year, is a singer and songwriter known for 1970s-era songs such as “Fire and Rain” and Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”