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White House: US should have sent higher-level official to Paris

Rare admission of error appears aimed at blunting criticism that decision to send low level official was disrespectful

In a rare public admission of error, the White House said Monday the United States should have sent a high-level official to a unity march in Paris that was attended by more than 40 world leaders and honored the 17 victims of last weeks attacks in the French capital.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder represented the Obama administration, but he was in Paris for security meetings and did not participate in the march.

"It's fair to say we should have sent someone with a higher profile," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. Secretary of State John Kerry was on a long-planned trip to India on Sunday but now will visit France later this week.

The White House appeared to have been caught off guard by both the display of international unity at the Paris march and the criticism of its decision to be represented only by Ambassador Jane Huntley.

Monday's admission of error seemed aimed at blunting criticism that the decision was tone deaf or disrespectful to the long U.S. alliance with France, a country set on edge by three days of terror.

Earnest suggested the elaborate security apparatus required for presidential travel prohibited President Barack Obama, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, from traveling to Paris on relatively short notice.

"There's no doubt that had the president or vice president, on this very short time frame, gone to participate in this event that took place outdoors with more than a million people in attendance, that it would have significantly impacted the ability of those who attended the march to participate in the way they did yesterday," Earnest said.

Planning for presidential travel overseas often begins months in advance, and security personnel typically arrive days ahead of Obama. However, trips are occasionally pulled together more quickly, including last year when Obama traveled to South Africa for a memorial service following the death of Nelson Mandela. Vice presidents can also typically travel with a lighter security footprint.

Dozens of world leaders did attend the march in Paris Sunday, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Earnest said the march was a "remarkable display of unity" in the face of the attacks that set France on edge. The White House would not say why Holder, who was in Paris for security discussions, did not attend the march.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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