January 16, 2015 | « back

NYTIMES.COM — Kerry Travels to Paris to Show Solidarity After Terror Attacks


PARIS — Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday capped off a morning full of high-level meetings and wreath-laying to commemorate France’s struggle against terrorism by welcoming James Taylor at Paris’s ornate City Hall.

After strumming a few bars of “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France, Mr. Taylor lowered his head and played “You’ve Got a Friend,” singing the final words in French.

Mr. Kerry had said on Thursday that he wanted to “share a big hug with Paris” to demonstrate American friendship with “the longest ally in our history” after a three-day onslaught last week in which Islamist militants killed 17 people.

His visit here represented the Obama administration’s effort to correct its failure to send a top official to a mass rally and solidarity march in Paris on Sunday that was attended by leaders of more than 40 countries.

If anybody was in a position to erase an impression of American indifference to France, it was Mr. Kerry, a Francophile who speaks French and has already made 18 trips to Paris as secretary of state. And for much of the day, Mr. Kerry did everything possible to try to do just that.

His day began with an early morning meeting with Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, in which Mr. Kerry explained that long-scheduled visits to India and Bulgaria earlier in the week had delayed his arrival here.

“That’s why I couldn’t come,” Mr. Kerry said. “It’s good to be with you. We have a lot to talk about.”

He then went to the Élysée Palace, the presidential residence, where he hugged Mr. Hollande in the courtyard. They moved inside and sat at a table, flanked by their aides.

Mr. Kerry, speaking in English, said, “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.”

“You, too, were the victims of a terrorist attack, on Sept. 11, 2001,” Mr. Hollande said during his meeting with Mr. Kerry. “Together, we must find the necessary responses.”

Mr. Kerry’s motorcade then rushed to the kosher supermarket in eastern Paris where four people were killed after being taken hostage last Friday. The site has been turned into a memorial of flowers and candles.

Accompanied by Mr. Fabius, Mr. Kerry presented a wreath made of red roses and white lilies, which rested on a tripod and bore a sash saying “United States of America.” Mr. Kerry and his French counterpart spoke with Joël Mergui, the head of France’s Rabbinical Council.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Fabius then headed to the memorial site outside the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, where they met with François Vauglin, the mayor of the 11th Arrondissement. Mr. Kerry walked to the spot where a French police officer had been killed, to pay his respects.

Nicolas Jean, 26, a student in international politics who came to City Hall to hear Mr. Kerry, said that he appreciated the American’s gesture.
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“It’s never too late,” Mr. Jean said. “I’m happy to see the United States show its solidarity with France. The U.S. is a key ally, and it has huge symbolic importance.”

But others were less impressed. Édith Trolliet, 23, a fashion student who was sipping a cappuccino at a Starbucks near the Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall, said that Mr. Kerry’s trip was “political catch-up.”

Ms. Trolliet said that she had attended the march on Sunday. While the absence of a top level American representative did not go unnoticed, “people had other things on their minds than which political representatives were there.”

At Mr. Kerry’s final stop, at City Hall, he was hosted by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris. After a moment of silence, the mayor noted that she had received numerous expressions of condolence after the terrorist attacks, including from Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York.

In the audience was Lassana Bathily, a Muslim immigrant from Mali who worked at the kosher supermarket that was attacked. He helped save the lives of several customers there, and will be honored by the French government by being given French citizenship.

In his address, which Mr. Kerry delivered in both English and French, he sought to underscore his ties to France, noting that his mother, born to Americans in Paris, worked as a nurse until the advance of Nazi forces during World War II forced her to flee to Portugal.

“No nation knows better than France that freedom has a price,” Mr. Kerry said before Mr. Taylor, whom Mr. Kerry knows from his days as a senator from Massachusetts, began to play.

His message delivered, Mr. Kerry got back to diplomatic business before preparing to return to Washington: a meeting here with Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, who was in Paris to confer with French officials on the negotiations to limit Iran’s nuclear program. It was Mr. Kerry’s second meeting with Mr. Zarif this week.