Nicolas Sarkozy made a minor gaffe on his first US visit as France’s president by wrongly suggesting that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recent immigrant roots.
Sarkozy, in improvised remarks today to the French-American Business Council in Washington, cited Rice and her predecessors, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright, as examples of people from immigrant backgrounds succeeding in the US.
“Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Madame Rice, these are not long-time Americans. ... For more than 20 years your minister for foreign affairs has been an American from elsewhere,” the French leader said.
But Rice’s parents were Americans, as were their parents and at least one other generation before them. Biographies of Rice say her paternal great-grandparents were born into slavery in pre-Civil War Alabama.
Rice is the first black woman to become the top US diplomat. She frequently notes that if she stays in the job until President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009, it will mark a dozen years since the US last had a white man in the top diplomatic job.
Powell, Rice’s immediate predecessor, is a black man born in New York City. His parents immigrated to the United States from Jamaica. He took over from Albright, who was born in Czechoslovakia and left the country with her parents after World War II.
The immigrant success story is dear to Sarkozy, himself the son of a Hungarian immigrant. His Cabinet is among France’s most diverse ever, with three women ministers and junior ministers with roots in Africa.
Two of them travelled with him to the US – Justice Minister Rachida Dati and Senegalese-born Rama Yade, junior minister for human rights.