Palin's controlled debut in diplomacy

Sarah Palin met with world leaders Tuesday.

It was a tightly controlled crash course on foreign policy for the GOP vice presidential candidate, the mayor-turned-governor who has been outside North America just once.

Palin sat down with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The talks were private, the pictures public, meant to build her resume for voters concerned about her lack of experience in world affairs.

“I found her quite a capable woman,” Karzai said later. “She asked the right questions on Afghanistan.”

Palin also asked former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for insights on Georgia, Russia, China and Iran. She'll see more leaders today on the sidelines of U.N. General Assembly meetings.

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.

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 to 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.

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.

Karzai and Palin discussed security issues in Afghanistan, including cross-border insurgencies. They also talked about sending more U.S. troops, which both McCain and Democrat Barack Obama say is necessary, Biegun said.

With Karzai and Uribe, Palin discussed the importance of energy security. With Uribe, she also touched on the proposed U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement that McCain and she back but Obama opposes.

Her meeting with Kissinger covered a range of national security and foreign policy issues, specifically Russia, Iran and China, Biegun said.

“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,” he said.