10 Feb 2013

Kerry reticent on francais

1:01 pm on 10 February 2013

John Kerry refused to speak French at his first news conference as US Secretary of State.

After meeting Foreign Minister John Baird of Canada in Washington on Friday, the BBC reports he was asked to answer a question with a "bit of French please":

"Not today,'' he said. ''I got to refresh myself on that."

Mr Kerry attended a Swiss boarding school and is known to speak the language well.

His knowledge of French prompted scorn in the US press during his unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2004, due to the souring of US-French ties over the war in Iraq.

Since then, he has played down his language proficiency, bolstered during childhood summers spent at his mother's family estate in Brittany.

Mr Baird was the first foreign dignitary to be welcomed to the state department by Mr Kerry since he took office.

Mr Kerry on 1 February succeeded Hillary Clinton who visited 112 countries and notched up almost one million air miles during in her four years in the post.

The BBC reports the new secretary of state spent much of his first week getting in touch with foreign leaders.

Last weekend, he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Kerry also contacted the foreign ministers of Japan, South Korea, Turkey and Mexico.