Sarah Palin met her first two world leaders Tuesday—Colombian president Álvaro Uribe and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
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, wrote the Associated Press.
The Afghan head of state said: “I found her quite a capable woman.”
But whatever Uribe’s impressions of self-described “hockey mom” who only got a passport last year, they were not remarkable enough to warrant a quote in the Associated Press article.
With both Karzai and Uribe, Palin discussed the importance of energy security. With Uribe, the conversation also touched on the proposed U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement that McCain and Palin support but Obama opposes.
Karzai generated light laughter when he told an audience at the Asia Society that, in addition to Rice and Norway’s prime minister, he had seen Palin on Tuesday. Thomas Freston, a member of the society’s board, drew loud applause and laughter when he responded: “You’re probably the only person in the room who’s met Gov. Palin.”
If Uribe had any laugh lines, they were not reported.
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.
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.
Randy Scheunemann, a longtime McCain aide on foreign policy, was close at hand during her meetings. Another adviser, Stephen Biegun, also accompanied her at each meeting and briefed reporters later.
Before Palin’s first meeting of the day, with Karzai, campaign aides had 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.”
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. (AP)