Palin Sits Down With 2 Foreign Leaders

Sarah Palin met her first world leaders Tuesday. It was a tightly controlled crash course on foreign policy for the Republican vice presidential candidate in New York. Video by AP
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NEW YORK, Sept. 23 -- Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin made her diplomatic debut Tuesday, meeting with two heads of state who traveled to New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.

Palin, who met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, engaged in small talk and policy discussions as part of her effort to augment her foreign policy credentials. Palin, who has traveled outside North America once, also met with former secretary of state Henry Kissinger at his New York office.

The campaign of Sen. John McCain sought to highlight the sessions with several photo ops, though they limited the news media's access, at one point barring print reporters from observing Palin's initial exchange with Karzai.

Shuttling from one meeting to another, Palin traveled across New York with the buzz of a high-profile personality. Her motorcade shut down traffic, and for a time police barred entry to her Midtown hotel. Tourists pulled out video cameras to film the Alaska governor, prompting several police vehicles to drive onto the sidewalk to protect the SUV in which she was riding. Traffic backed up, crowds gathered behind the barricades and a supporter yelled, "We love you, Sarah!"

Palin also received her first national security briefing on Tuesday from the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, and several of his aides -- a standard practice for the two parties' nominees.

In a briefing with reporters, Palin's senior foreign policy adviser, Stephen E. Biegun, said the governor did not issue policy pronouncements during the sessions with Karzai and Uribe, each of which lasted about half an hour. Biegun said her goals were "to establish a relationship and to listen." Meetings with foreign leaders, he added, "are a very important part of her being prepared on Day One."

Biegun and McCain's senior foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, accompanied Palin to Tuesday's sessions.

Palin will continue to meet with foreign leaders Wednesday when she sits down with some of the United States' closest allies in the developing world -- including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -- several of whom are personally friendly with McCain.

Pakistan's U.S. ambassador, Husain Haqqani (President Asif Ali Zardari will meet Palin on Wednesday), said officials from his country are eager to discuss the fight against terrorism with members of both the GOP and Democratic tickets.

"President Zardari is engaging with all candidates as part of his effort to strengthen the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, which is central to stabilizing a very dangerous region of the world," Haqqani said. "We would be interested in Governor Palin's thoughts, and we would happily answer her questions."

Palin's talks with the foreign leaders resemble the trip Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama took over the summer, when the first-term senator from Illinois met with military and foreign leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan, Britain, France and Germany. At the end of a trip designed to bolster his foreign policy credentials, Obama said: "The value to me of this trip is, hopefully, it gives voters a sense that I can in fact -- and do -- operate effectively on the international stage."

The Senate office of Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday released a "partial list" showing that the senator from Delaware has met the leaders of nearly 60 countries, territories and international organizations. The list ran to 150 names and included nine Israeli prime ministers, four Soviet leaders and two Russian presidents, Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama.

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