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Harris will be the top U.S. official at a large gathering of world leaders in France


Vice President Kamala Harris heads to Paris tonight. She is using part of her international trip to mend a rift with France. But it's also her first overseas visit where she'll be the top U.S. official at a large gathering of world leaders. NPR's White House correspondent Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: On this trip, she'll have face time with some two dozen world leaders, including some of the biggest leaders in Europe, like Germany's Angela Merkel and Italy's Mario Draghi. It's a high-profile venue for someone who has spent most of her career on domestic issues and a chance for her to build up a foreign policy track record.

COLIN DUECK: Apprenticeship's a good word for it.

KHALID: Colin Dueck is a former adviser to multiple Republican presidential candidates.

DUECK: In other words, improving her own sense of who the major players are, what their views are, gaining that international experience, that foreign policy experience.

KHALID: He now teaches at George Mason University, and he says if Harris is planning to run for president in the future, she needs to develop an international portfolio.

DUECK: She's not terribly experienced on foreign policy, so she's got to - you know, she's got to gain that experience, meet foreign leaders, travel, develop her own views.

KHALID: Harris supporters say it's not fair to compare her to the president with his decades on the global stage. They say she has a global orientation, visiting India as a child and going to high school in multicultural Montreal. And they say her instincts are solid. Halie Soifer was a national security adviser to Harris in Congress and points out that her old boss was on the Senate Intelligence Committee dealing extensively with Russia.

HALIE SOIFER: She does have experience with regard to foreign policy and national security issues, and a lot of that experience that was gained in the Senate happened behind closed doors.

KHALID: Still, there is no question that Harris' political focus has been on domestic priorities.

JOEL GOLDSTEIN: For Vice President Harris, as with her predecessors, taking this sort of trip and speaking in Paris and being seen meeting with President Macron is helpful and it's part of the process of credentializing (ph) herself is a diplomat.

KHALID: That's Joel Goldstein at St. Louis University. He's considered one of the foremost experts on the vice presidency.

GOLDSTEIN: One of the things that has made foreign travel appealing to vice presidents going back to Richard Nixon is that it presents them as a leader on the world stage. It elevates them.

KHALID: Harris will be attending a multilateral conference on Libya and also speaking at the Paris Peace Forum.

GOLDSTEIN: Those sorts of meetings, while they're are often dismissed as being ceremonial, they're times where vice presidents or presidents, you know, or secretaries of state can actually do a lot of business because they can see a lot of people. And you never know what relationship you may develop.

KHALID: Trips like this are always part image building, part educational and part diplomatic. Harris will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron less than two weeks after President Biden met with him. The United States' relationship with France hit a rocky patch in September after a U.S. deal with Australia for nuclear-powered submarines shut France out of a contract. Celia Belin with the Brookings Institution says it's all part of an effort by high-level U.S. officials to remind the French that they value this partnership.

CELIA BELIN: The vice president is basically a part of this charm operation that the United States implemented towards France in the past month and a half.

KHALID: But Harris in Paris is not just about Paris. Experts say there will be a lot of curiosity from other world leaders about this woman - the top U.S. official at the table, a woman of color representing the United States. They've never seen anyone like her.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOIR DESIR'S "VENT NOUS PORTERA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.