, NEW YORK, September 24 – Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has began a diplomatic marathon in New York in an effort to bolster her foreign policy credentials ahead of the November 4 presidential election.
Palin — who did not get her first passport until 2007 and had never met a foreign head of state — held brief separate meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Ever since Republican presidential candidate John McCain chose Palin, 44, as his running mate, the Alaska governor has been criticized for having virtually no foreign policy experience.
At first the McCain campaign said it would only allow photographers and a TV crew into the meetings, but relented and let in a pool reporter from CNN into the Karzai event after some television networks threatened to not cover Palin’s first steps on the world stage.
Palin spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt later attributed the ban on print reporters at the Karzai meeting as a staff "mix-up."
Palin and Karzai’s conversation began with talk about their children. Hamby reported that Karzai spoke of the birth of his first child last year.
"What is his name?" asked Palin.
"Mirwais," replied Karzai, adding, "which means ‘The Light of the House.’"
"Oh nice," Palin responded.
Palin’s relations with the media have been strained — after four weeks of campaigning Palin has granted just two interviews, and held no press conferences.
Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, told Fox News in early September that Palin will not take questions from reporters "until the point in time when she’ll be treated with respect and deference."
McCain foreign policy advisor Randy Sheunemann and Steve Biegun, formerly with the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, accompanied Palin in the Karzai meeting, held at a Manhattan hotel.
Palin dressed in black and wore gold earrings in the shape of her home state of Alaska.
The Afghan president prompted an outpouring of mirth later Tuesday at a roundtable forum of the Asia Society, held near the UN General Assembly.
When Karzai said he had met Palin earlier in the day the packed audience burst into laughter.
The forum moderator said Karzai was "probably the only person in the room who had met Governor Palin."
When Karzai, appearing embarrased, replied "Well, I’m happy about that," the audience again laughed.
Karzai went on to praise Palin, saying: "I found her a capable woman. She had the right questons on Afghanistan. She was concerned and she said how she can help."
After Karzai, Palin then met Uribe behind closed doors at the residence of Colombia’s United Nations ambassador.
The two discussed US-Colombia relations, the fight against drug trafficking and a bilateral free trade agreement that Democrats have blocked in Congress, said McCain spokeswoman Hessy Fernandez.
Palin went on to meet with former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a giant of 20th century US diplomacy.
Palin on Wednesday is scheduled to meet the leaders of two embattled US allies, presidents Mikheil Saaskashvili of Georgia and Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine, as well as Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
Also on the schedule: an interview with Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2 and champion of global humanitarian causes.