Palin, in a bubble, meets her first world leaders

Campaign 2008 Palin
Sarah Palin meets Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday in New York.Henny Ray Abrams / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sarah Palin met her first world leaders Tuesday.

It was a tightly controlled crash course on foreign policy for the Republican vice presidential candidate, the mayor-turned-governor who has been outside North America just once.

Palin sat down with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The conversation was private, the pictures public, meant to pad her resume for voters concerned about her lack of experience in world affairs.

The self-described "hockey mom" also asked former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for insights on Georgia, and she'll see more leaders Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meetings.

It was shuttle diplomacy, New York-style. At several points, Palin's motorcade got stuck in traffic and New Yorkers, unimpressed with the flashing lights, sirens and police officers in her group, simply walked between the vehicles to get across the street. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, three hours behind Palin in seeing Karzai, found herself overshadowed for a day as she made her own rounds.

John McCain's presidential campaign has shielded the first-term Alaska governor for weeks from spontaneous questions from voters and reporters, and went to striking lengths Tuesday to maintain that distance as Palin made her diplomatic debut.

The GOP campaign, applying more restrictive rules on access than even President Bush uses in the White House, banned reporters from the start of the meetings, so as not to risk a question being asked of Palin.

McCain aides relented after news organizations objected and CNN, which was supplying TV footage to a variety of networks, decided to pull its TV crew from Palin's meeting with Karzai.

Overheard: small talk.

Palin is studying foreign policy ahead of her one debate with Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, a senator with deep credentials on that front. More broadly, the Republican ticket is trying to counter questions exploited by Democrats about her qualifications to serve as vice president and step into the presidency at a moment's notice if necessary.

There was no chance of putting such questions to rest with photo opportunities Tuesday.

But Palin, who got a passport only last year, no longer has to own up to a blank slate when asked about heads of state she has met.

She also got her first intelligence briefing Tuesday, over two hours.

As for the foreign leaders, Colombia's foreign minister, Jaime Bermudez, told The Associated Press that Palin and Uribe discussed the Bush administration's free trade agreement with Colombia, which McCain supports but Democrats in Congress have refused to bring to a vote.

"The crisis on Wall Street was also discussed," Bermudez said. "She knows the topic well."

Uribe's press secretary, Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, told AP the meeting lasted for 25 minutes and also touched on Colombian security and the war on terrorism. "The conversation was interesting, opportune and relaxed," he said.

Before that, Palin met Karzai for a half hour. The two chatted about his son Mirwais in remarks overheard by a CNN producer before leaving the room. Karzai told her the name means Light of the House, as she nodded.


Sarah Palin

View images of her rise from governor of Alaska to a potential presidential contender.

At the next two meetings, first with Uribe and then with Kissinger, reporters were let in for a few seconds as each session began. With Kissinger, Palin could be heard discussing the situation in Georgia.

"You're going to give me more insight on that also," Palin told Kissinger. They met for more than an hour. "It was great," she said later before turning to get into her SUV.

Randy Scheunemann, longtime McCain aide on foreign policy, was close at hand throughout the sessions.

Before Palin's first meeting of the day, with Karzai, campaign aides told reporters in the press pool that followed her they could not go into meetings where photographers and a video camera crew would be let in for pictures.

Bush and members of Congress routinely allow reporters to attend photo opportunities along with photographers, and the reporters sometimes are able to ask questions at the beginning of private meetings before they are ushered out.

At least two news organizations, including AP, objected to the exclusion of reporters and were told that the decision to have a "photo spray" only was not subject to discussion. After aides backed away from that, campaign spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said the reporter ban was a "miscommunication."

On Wednesday, McCain and Palin are expected to meet jointly with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko. Palin is then to meet separately with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Palin, 44, has been to neighboring Canada and to Mexico, and made a brief trip to Kuwait and Germany to see Alaska National Guard troops.