US & Canada

White House says 'absence' at Paris rally a mistake

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a press conference in Gandhinagar, India 12 January 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption John Kerry said US officials had been "deeply engaged" with France over the attacks

The US government has said that it should have sent "someone with a higher profile" to Sunday's Paris unity rally.

It comes after US media criticised President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for not attending the demonstration.

The rally, which followed three terror attacks in Paris, was attended by an estimated 1.6 million people and some 40 world leaders.

The US ambassador to France was the highest ranking US official attending.

Speaking on Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Obama wished he could have attended, but the "onerous and significant" security preparations for a presidential visit required more than the 36-hour advance notice the White House received.

He added, however: "It's fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile."

Seventeen people died in attacks in Paris last week at a satirical magazine, on a police officer, and at a kosher supermarket.

'Not about one day'

Mr Kerry told reporters in India he would visit France to reaffirm US solidarity with the country, which he called America's oldest ally.

A fluent French speaker, he has visited the country 17 times since becoming secretary of state.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption About 40 world leaders and dignitaries marched arm in arm

Among those linking arms in a symbolic gesture at the Paris march were UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

US Attorney General Eric Holder, in Paris for an anti-terror summit, did not attend the march because he was giving media interviews.

Mr Kerry was visiting India, for an international development trip, and Pakistan to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

"I would have personally very much wanted to have been there," Mr Kerry said, but "it is important to keep these kinds of commitments".

Mr Kerry said US officials, including himself and Mr Obama, had been "deeply engaged" with French authorities since the first attack and had offered intelligence assistance.

"I want to emphasise that the relationship with France is not about one day or one particular moment," Mr Kerry said.

"It is an ongoing long-time relationship that is deeply, deeply based in the shared values, and particularly the commitment that we share to freedom of expression."

Mr Kerry is expected to arrive in Paris later this week.

Meanwhile, the White House announced there would be an international summit in Washington in February on countering violent extremism.