Palin defends remark on Russia

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin defended her remark that the close proximity of Russia to her home state of Alaska gives her foreign policy experience, explaining in a CBS interview that aired Thursday that “we have trade missions back and forth.”

Palin has never visited Russia, and until last year the 44-year-old Alaska governor had never been outside North America. She also had never met a foreign leader until her trip this week to New York. In the CBS interview, she offered no examples of having been involved in negotiations with the Russians.

Palin's foreign policy experience came up in her first major interview, on Sept. 11 to ABC News. Asked what insight she'd gained from living so near Russia, she said: “They're our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.”

The comment met with derision from Palin's critics and was turned into a punch line for a “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring actress Tina Fey. Appearing as Palin, she proclaimed, “I can see Russia from my house!”

In the interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric, Palin said: “It's funny that a comment like that was, kind of made to … I don't know, you know? Reporters …”

Couric said, “Mock?”

“Yeah,” Palin said, “mocked, I guess that's the word, yeah.”

When Couric asked how Alaska's closeness to Russia enhanced her foreign policy experience, Palin said, “Well, it certainly does because our … our next-door neighbors are foreign countries.” Alaska shares a border with Canada.

Palin didn't answer directly when Couric asked whether she'd been involved in any negotiations with Russia.

“We have trade missions back and forth,” she replied. As she continued, Palin brought up Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where – where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is – from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to … to our state,” she said.

Earlier Thursday, Palin held a rare exchange with reporters outside a firehouse in New York, and declined to endorse the candidacy of indicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. On trial for seven counts of making false statements stemming from allegations he hid gifts on Senate financial documents, Stevens is seeking re-election to the seat he has held since 1968.

When a reporter asked Palin whether she supports the re-election of Stevens, she replied: “Ted Stevens' trial started a couple of days ago. We'll see where that goes.”

Palin has yet to have a news conference in the four weeks since GOP presidential candidate John McCain chose her as his running mate and has submitted to only three major interviews — with ABC, Fox News and CBS.