(Reuters) — French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “apologized” for not attending a march protesting recent terrorist attacks in France.
Fabius said his American counterpart offered the apology Friday for his absence from a Jan. 11 unity march in the French capital, AFP reported.
Bearing flowers and his fluent French, Kerry offered his condolences and “a hug” to France on Friday for the deaths from last week’s Islamist attacks.
Kerry’s visit came after the United States failed to send a top official to attend Sunday’s march in the French capital, an omission that led to significant domestic criticism and a rare White House admission that it had made a mistake.
While Kerry and his aides stressed that he was not trying to make amends for the U.S. absence on Sunday, by word and deed he sought to convey the United States’ solidarity with France, its oldest ally.
The chief U.S. diplomat laid wreaths of white lilies and red roses at the sites of the two attacks, one on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly and the other at a Jewish supermarket in the French capital. Seventeen people were killed by three attackers who also died.
“Today, I wanted to be here, at home with you, among you,” Kerry said, speaking in fluent, American-accented French.
“I wanted to tell you personally of the horror and revulsion that all Americans felt at these cowardly and despicable attacks against innocent victims and fundamental values,” he added, stumbling over the word “revulsion” in French.
Speaking in English, Kerry said: “I really wanted to come here and share a hug with all of Paris, with all of France.”
Underlining the message of Franco-American friendship, Kerry arranged for American musician James Taylor to sing his version of the 1970s hit “You’ve got a friend” at an event at the Paris city hall where the two appeared together.
Earlier, Kerry literally hugged French President Francois Hollande in the courtyard of the Elysee presidential palace.
“You have the full and heartfelt condolences of the American people,” Kerry told Hollande. “We share the pain and the horror of everything you went through.”
“The French people … was the victim of an exceptional terrorist attack,” Hollande said, likening last week’s events to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York. “We must therefore together find the necessary response.”
With French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius riding along, Kerry’s limousine then sped through the streets of Paris to offer his respects first at Hyper Cacher, a Jewish supermarket where four people died, and then at Charlie Hebdo, where 12 were killed.
At the weekly’s offices, Francois Vauglin, the mayor of the Paris neighborhood where the attack took place, appeared to give Kerry a vivid description of the events, gesturing up and down the street.
Bidding farewell to Fabius, Kerry then took a short walk to a third impromptu memorial, this one to the two policemen who died in that attack. As at the supermarket and the Charlie Hebdo office, bouquets of fresh flowers were piled high.