France state

Antony Blinken has a delicate job in Paris after Submarine Row


Not so long ago, the thinner French relations of one of Mr Blinken’s predecessors as Secretary of State, John Kerry, drew chuckles from Tories who hinted that Mr Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was somehow less than fully American (or “looks like French,” as former President George W. Bush’s former Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans).

Compared to Mr Blinken, however, Mr Kerry – who learned French at a Swiss boarding school and spent summers with his grandparents on the Brittany coast – was a dumbfounded tourist in front of the Eiffel Tower.

After Mr Blinken’s mother married her second husband in 1971, Samuel Pisar – a prominent diplomat, lawyer and prominent politician of Polish descent who had moved to Paris years before – she brought in a 9-year-old Antony to live there with them.

Judith Blinken quickly established herself in the French capital. Former musical director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, she flourished as a cultural ambassador in Paris, helping to promote institutions like the American Center in Paris, which is now closed. A 1993 Chicago Tribune profile described her as a flawless Francophone and “impeccable hostess” who “dresses with the aplomb and confidence that are innate to French women.” She has often entertained in the family home just off Avenue Foch, in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, “a very modern apartment, all in white, on two levels, filled with major works of art”.

Mr. Blinken attended the Active Bilingual School, a school in central Paris, not far from the Arc de Triomphe. His classmates included Robert Malley, a longtime friend who is now the State Department‘s special envoy to Iran. Mr. Blinken quickly learned French and integrated into the local culture, while also finding ways to embrace his American roots: when the first McDonald’s opened in Paris, he ran there with friends and was become a regular customer. He also fell in love with American rock music, playing guitar in a band that performed when he graduated from high school.

As a teenager in Paris, he became interested in international politics and countered hostile views of the United States from his friends at a time when left-wing criticisms 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 stay in Paris “a life-changing experience” which allowed him to ” 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 study at Harvard University and Columbia Law School, then returned for two years to work in a Paris law firm.