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Antony Blinken Has a Delicate Job in Paris After Submarine Row

todayOctober 3, 2021 7

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Not long ago, the thinner French connections of John Kerry, one of Mr. Blinken’s predecessors as secretary of state, drew snickers from conservatives who implied that Mr. Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was somehow less than fully American (or “looks French,” as President George W. Bush’s commerce secretary, Donald L. Evans, once quipped).

Compared with Mr. Blinken, however, Mr. Kerry — who learned French at a Swiss boarding school and spent summers at his grandparents’ home in coastal Brittany — was a tourist gawking at the Eiffel Tower.

After Mr. Blinken’s mother married her second husband in 1971, Samuel Pisar — a prominent Polish-born diplomat, lawyer and political eminence who had relocated to Paris years before — she brought 9-year-old Antony to live there with them.

Judith Blinken quickly made her own mark in the French capital. A former director of music at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, she thrived as a kind of cultural ambassador in Paris, helping promote institutions like the American Center in Paris, which is now closed. A 1993 Chicago Tribune profile described her as a flawless French speaker and “impeccable hostess” who “dresses with the aplomb and confidence that is innate to Frenchwomen.” She frequently entertained at the family home just off the upscale Avenue Foch in the 16th Arrondissement, “a very modern, all white, bi-level apartment filled with major art pieces.”

Mr. Blinken attended the École Active Bilingue, a school in central Paris, not far from the Arc de Triomphe. His classmates included Robert Malley, a lifelong friend who is now the State Department’s special envoy for Iran. Mr. Blinken quickly picked up French and integrated into the culture while still finding ways to embrace his American roots: When the first McDonald’s opened in Paris, he raced there with friends and became a regular customer. He also fell in love with American rock music, playing guitar in a band that performed at his high school graduation.

As a teenager in Paris, he took an interest in international politics and parried hostile views of the United States from friends at a time when leftist critiques of the Cold War were common there. In an interview with The New York Times in June, during his first visit to France as secretary of state, Mr. Blinken called his time in Paris “a life-changing experience” that allowed him “to be able to see my own country from a different perspective. And that was a very powerful thing.”

Mr. Blinken left France in 1980 to attend Harvard University and Columbia Law School, then returned for two years to work at a law firm in Paris.

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todayOctober 3, 2021 7