Washington admitted Monday it erred in not sending a top official to attend a solidarity rally in France following last week's terror attacks in Paris.
At a news conference, White House spokesman Josh Earnest backpedaled on the decision to have U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley and the State Department's top diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, as the highest-ranking American officials to join scores of world leaders Sunday alongside French President Francois Hollande.
"I think it's fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile to be there," said Earnest.
The president has publicly expressed sympathy for France. But in the days since the attacks, he has focused on domestic issues - flying around the U.S. to highlight better economic performance and improving job numbers. In a speech on education and job training in Tennessee Friday, President Obama mentioned his support for the French.
“I want the people of France to know that the United States stands with you today, stands with you tomorrow," he said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have been directly impacted. We grieve with you. We fight alongside you to uphold our values, the values that we share -- universal values that bind us together as friends and as allies.”
As part of the explanation for not going to the rally, White House officials said there was little time to prepare for a high-level trip.
“The security requirements around a presidential level visit or even a vice presidential level visit are onerous and significant and in a situation like this they typically have a pretty significant impact on the other citizens who are trying to participate in a large public event like this,” White House spokesman Earnest said.
At times like these, political analysts say symbolism is important and few here have forgotten how French President Jacques Chirac was the first foreign leader to visit the U.S. after the September 11th attacks.
That made it even more difficult for White House officials to explain why the president didn’t send Attorney General Eric Holder who happened to be in Paris Sunday for talks on terrorism.
Secretary of State John Kerry is expected in France later this week, but analysts say it’s clear the president may have missed a symbolic but important opportunity.
Earlier Monday, Kerry dismissed criticism that neither he nor other top officials travelled to Paris.
"I don't think the people of France have any doubt about America's understanding of what happened, about our personal sense of loss, our deep commitment to the people of France in this moment of trial," he said.
Kerry added that the U.S. "has been deeply engaged" and has been sharing intelligence with France from the moment the attack took place.
The top U.S. diplomat is on a long-planned trip to India and Pakistan. U.S. officials say he will stop by France on Thursday before returning to Washington.
During his visit in France, Kerry will meet with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and pay respects to the 17 victims of the attacks at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.
The attack has prompted an international outpouring of support for the magazine and condemnation of the attackers, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and al-Qaida.
Victoria Macchi contributed to this report.