Seeking to shore up her foreign policy credentials, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin met with foreign leaders today as the United Nations General Assembly convened in New York.
Her meetings — closely guarded by the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain — garnered plenty of media attention but not for the reasons the campaign might have hoped.
The campaign barely allowed journalists access to Palin's meetings, setting off a firestorm that dominated the tone of her press coverage, on a day the McCain camp had hoped to quell concerns about the Alaska governor's foreign policy experience with photo ops with foreign leaders.
Palin Enters New Territory
Accompanied by McCain foreign policy advisers Steve Biegun and Randy Scheunemann, Palin spent 30 minutes with with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for 20 minutes and then spent an hour and a half with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
For Palin — who had never met with a head of state before — it was all new terrain. Begun later told reporters that Palin had enjoyed meeting with all three men. "I think she liked them very much," he said. "Gov. Palin established a great personal rapport. Obviously these were leaders of two countries very close to the U.S. and with whom we share objectives in defeating terrorism."
Palin's Crash Course in Foreign Policy
With only a week until her vice presidential debate with Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., Palin has been on a policy crash course of sorts. In addition to accompanying Palin today, Biegun and Scheunemann have been briefing the Alaska governor in preparation for her debate against the six-term senator who is the chairman of the foreign relations committee.
But Biegun dismissed the idea that these sessions were meant to better prepare Palin for the vice presidency.
"She's already fully prepared to be vice president," he said.
Bigeun said Palin spent most of her day listening to foreign leaders.
"Rather than make specific policy prescriptions, she was largely listening, having an exchange of views, and also very interested in forming a relationship with people she met with today," Biegun said.
According to Biegun, all three men raised the issue of energy security with Palin —a subject she is intimately familiar with as governor of Alaska.
The Karzai meeting was held at the Afghan president's suite at the Intercontinental Hotel in midtown Manhattan. In addition to energy, the two discussed the security situation in Afghanistan, the need for more U.S. troops and what can be done to increase stability in that country, according to the McCain-Palin campaign.
Karzai also hightlighted the contribution of the Alaska National Guard in Afghanistan.
A television camera and network producer were allowed to observe the Karzai meeting for less than 30 seconds. The crew was allowed into the Uribe and Kissinger sessions for about 15 seconds apiece and only snippets of the conversation could be overheard.
In the first moments of the Karzai meeting, while the camera crew was in the room, Palin leaned in and smiled, at times patting her heart. She asked Karzai what he had named his young son, who was born in January 2007.
"Mirwais," Karzai responded. "Mirwais, which means, 'the Light of the House.'"
Palin met Uribe at the residence for the Colombian Mission to the United Nations and was heard thanking him for his work.
According to Biegun, the two discussed the security situation in Colombia and Palin voiced strong support on McCain's behalf for a free trade agreement with Colombia.
Palin seemed to most enjoy her time with Kissinger, who is an informal adviser to the McCain campaign. The meeting went much longer than scheduled. Biegun said they discussed a full range of "pressing national security issues," including Russia, Iran and China.
After that meeting, Palin was heard on camera saying, "it went great. It went great." She gave Kissinger a hug.
Biegun billed the meetings as an opportunity for Palin to get to know American allies Colombia and Afghanistan, and said, "These are relationships that she intuitively understands."
Filling a Void in Her Veep CV
Democrats have long criticized Palin as being too inexperienced, particularly in foreign policy, to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, only 42 percent of participants said they thought Palin had the right kind of experience to serve effectively as president. On the other hand, 66 percent of respondents said that Biden did.
Palin only recently obtained a U.S. passport and before today had never met with a foreign head of state, something she downplayed in an interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson.
"I have not, and I think if you go back in history and if you ask that question of many vice presidents, they may have the same answer that I just gave you," Palin told Gibson. "We've got to remember what the desire is in this nation at this time. It is for no more politics as usual and somebody's big, fat resume maybe that shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment, where, yes, they've had opportunities to meet heads of state."
Palin Being Shielded From the Media?
The press was granted minimal access to Palin's meetings with world leaders. Even before the meetings got under way, the McCain-Palin campaign was locked in a battle with the press over how the networks would be allowed to cover them.
At first the McCain campaign refused to allow any journalists to go with a network pool camera taking pictures of the meetings. The campaign eventually relented after the television networks threatened to pull all coverage of Palin meeting with the world leaders, but her dance with the media continued throughout the day.
Before meeting with Karzai, Palin avoided reporters who were camped out at the main front entrance of the Intercontinental and instead pulled up to a side entrance and quickly snuck inside.
Pool reporters were asked to leave after the first 30 seconds of her meeting with Karzai and print and wire reporters were not permitted in the meeting at all.
"The decision was made for this to be a photo spray with still cameras and video cameras only," Palin spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt told reporters.
Reporters setting up to question Palin as she left her meeting with Karzai were blocked by a police cruiser and a Secret Service car. The Secret Service officer told ABC News that he was "under orders" and reporters were kept at a distance where they wouldn't be able to ask Palin any questions.
While the print and wire reporters were granted access to Palin's meetings with Uribe and Kissinger, they had even less time in the room and only witnessed pleasantries being exchanged within the first 30 seconds.
Many in the media world are crying foul about the lack of access to Palin, who hasn't held a single press conference or answered questions from her traveling press corps since accepting the nomination for vice president
Creating a Buzz in the Big Apple
Throughout her visit, Palin ignored the media but attracted the attention of New Yorkers. When reporters tried to ask the governor "How do you like New York?" she ignored them.
She wore her hair in her trademark up-do bun and sported gold, dangly earrings in the shape of the state of Alaska.
"Who's here? Palin? Baby, now we're talkin,'" said a man passing by her motorcade.
When told Palin was at the hotel across the street, another male passerby replied with a smile, "Oh, my girlfriend."
Palin will remain in New York tonight, though it's a mystery what she'll be doing. The campaign will say only that she has "private downtime" scheduled.