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Lack of Top US Official at Paris March Riles Some at Home

  • Reuters

L-R: Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, Mali's Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, France's Francois Hollande, Germany's Angela Merkel, the EU's Donald Tusk, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas march during a unity rally in Paris January 11, 2015.

L-R: Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, Mali's Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, France's Francois Hollande, Germany's Angela Merkel, the EU's Donald Tusk, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas march during a unity rally in Paris January 11, 2015.

The absence of President Barack Obama or any top members of his administration from a huge march in Paris on Sunday to honor victims of Islamist militant attacks raised eyebrows among some in the U.S. media.

French President Francois Hollande and some 44 foreign dignitaries, including leaders from Germany, Italy, Britain, Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian territories, headed more than a million people in what commentators said was the largest crowd in Paris since its liberation from Nazi Germany in 1944.

Islamist militants killed 17 people, including journalists and police, in three days of attacks in the French capital last week.

The United States was represented at Sunday's march by its ambassador to France, Jane Hartley. But commentators on some U.S. media outlets questioned why Obama did not attend or send a top administration official such as Vice President Joe Biden or Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry was in India for a previously scheduled visit. Attorney General Eric Holder met with European security counterparts in Paris to discuss ways to prevent violent extremism, but did not attend the march.

CNN discussed the issue on its news programming. Fareed Zakaria, who hosts a public affairs program on the network, said the absence of senior U.S. officials was a mistake.

Fox News host Greta Van Susteren tweeted: “This is really embarrassing - where is President Obama? Why didn't he go?”

“Sad that 50 world leaders could show solidarity in Paris but President Obama refused to participate. The cowardice continues,” tweeted Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But Obama on Friday pledged U.S. support for France, saying: “I want the people of France to know that the United States stands with you today, stands with you tomorrow.”

The White House said on Sunday that Obama would hold a global security meeting in Washington in February to discuss domestic and international efforts to counteract violent extremism.

The fact Obama was not at the march appeared to gain little immediate traction in France on a day dedicated to unity. One French TV commentator said the president's visit would have been unthinkable given the level of security that accompanies him at home and abroad.

French news channels have prominently featured Obama's expressions of solidarity with France, as well as Kerry's remarks in French last week condemning the attacks.

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