At least 40 world leaders linked arms and marched at a huge rally in Paris to denounce terrorism yesterday—but there was no President Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry, or even Eric Holder, who was in the city at the time. As the leaders marched, Holder was taping an interview for Meet the Press. The most senior US official present was the ambassador to France, reports the New York Daily News, which notes that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas set aside their differences to join the unity rally, which brought up to 3 million people to the streets of the city.
The absence of senior US officials has attracted plenty of criticism, but the White House stresses that US officials have been working closely with their French counterparts. A senior administration official tells CNN that the security required for Obama's presence "can be distracting from events like this—for once this event is not about us." John Kerry, who's in India, says the criticism is "quibbling" and he plans to visit France on his way back to the US to show America's solidarity with its oldest ally, the AP reports. "The relationship with France is not about one day or one particular moment," he told reporters today. "It is an ongoing, longtime relationship that is deeply, deeply based in the shared values, and particularly the commitment that we share to freedom of expression."