Charlie Hebdo: Obama slammed for failing to send senior official to Paris march

While 44 world leaders gathered US was represented by Ambassador to France

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The Obama administration is today struggling to explain why no senior US official attended Sunday’s rally in Paris – an event that drew many world leaders in an act of unity following the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

As images of more than 40 world leaders linking arms and marching through the French capital were beamed around the world, the US was struggling to explain why it was represented only by its Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley. Not Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden or Secretary of State John Kerry attended.

As the American media and critics of the administration pounced on the lack of more senior representation, Mr Kerry sought to brush off the issue, saying that he would travel to France later this week after concluding visits to India and Pakistan. A total of 44 world leaders attended the solidarity rally.

“I would have personally very much wanted to have been there but couldn't do so because I had commitments here and it is important to keep these kinds of commitments,” Mr Kerry said while in India, according to the Associated Press.

He said that assistant secretary of state for Europe, Victoria Nuland, was in Paris at the march, as was the US ambassador to France and many embassy officials. Curiously, Attorney General Eric Holder and deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas were also both in Paris on Sunday for meetings with French officials, yet neither joined the march.

Mr Kerry said he was travelling to France to reaffirm US solidarity with America’s oldest ally. He said that as soon as he heard about the march, he asked his team about the earliest time that he could go.

While in Paris, Mr Kerry will be meeting the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, and pay tribute to the victims of last week’s attacks in which 17 people died.

With the White House declining to explain why no senior official attended, there was speculation that security concerns may have been a factor. Mr Obama last week offered his 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.

But among the US media and among commentators, there appeared to be a consensus that the US government had erred badly.  Reports said that Mr Obama spent at least part of Sunday afternoon watching an American Football match. Mr Biden, the Vice President, was also in Washington but had nothing on his official schedule.

“It’s stunning, truly stunning,” Aaron David Miller, a former state department official, told the Politico website.  “It’s a poster child for tone deafness.”

The headline of the right-wing New York Daily News tabloid, declared: “You let the world down.”

Meanwhile, the White House announced on Sunday that it would convene a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in February “to highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalising, recruiting, or inspiring individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence”.

Later on Monday, a White House spokesman official told reporters that the administration recognised that a more senior official should have attended the rally. The official said that Mr Obama would have liked to have gone.

"We here at the White House should have made a different decision," said spokesman Josh Earnest. "This is not a decision that was made by the president."