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.
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."
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.