NEW YORK (Reuters) - Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin heard about foreign policy challenges ranging from Russia to Latin America on Tuesday in a drive to prepare her for a debate with her Democratic counterpart, Joe Biden.
Palin, who as the governor of Alaska has virtually no foreign policy expertise, had her first meetings with foreign leaders, sitting down for separate talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who are in New York for the U.N. General Assembly.
She also held an hour-long session with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in his Park Avenue office, talks that concentrated on Russia, Iran and China. Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August was a key topic.
“It was great,” Palin told reporters of her talks with Kissinger as she left his building. Kissinger escorted her outside and she gave him a kiss on the cheek in parting.
Palin foreign policy adviser Stephen Biegun told reporters that Palin’s purpose in the meetings with foreign leaders was “to develop relationships and to listen.”
“These are relationships that she intuitively understands are very important for the next president and vice president of the United States,” Biegun said.
In the sessions with Karzai and Uribe, she discussed ways to attack the underlying conditions in those countries that have given rise to the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and FARC guerrillas in Colombia.
Karzai, in an appearance later before the Asia Society, said he found Palin to be a “quite capable woman.”
“She asked the right questions on Afghanistan,” he said.
Biegun said Palin asked a lot of questions from Kissinger about how to develop a “cooperative relationship” with Russia, whose invasion of U.S. ally Georgia has strained U.S.-Russian ties.
Palin’s thin foreign policy resume has been the subject of criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans. Until Tuesday she had never met a foreign leader.
Palin, 44, faces an October 2 debate with Biden, the veteran senator from Delaware who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has broad knowledge of foreign policy issues.
With Republican presidential nominee John McCain, Palin on Wednesday is to meet President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, whose military was crushed in a short August war with Russia after he tried to retake by force a breakaway pro-Moscow region.
Kissinger credited French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the Russia-Georgia ceasefire, for his strong stance on behalf of the Georgian people during the crisis. He told Palin he was going to give a speech “and I‘m going to give him a lot of credit for what he did in Georgia.”
“Good, good,” Palin replied. “And you’ll give me more insight on that, also, huh? Good.”
On Wednesday, she and McCain will also meet the leaders of Ukraine and India, and she will meet solo with Iraq’s president.
In a sign of how concerned the McCain campaign is about having Palin exposed to unscripted moments with the news media, print reporters were barred from a picture-taking session at the beginning of the Palin-Karzai meeting in Karzai’s hotel suite.
After they protested, reporters were allowed to attend Palin’s photo sessions with Uribe and Kissinger.
Additional reporting by Daniel Bases; editing by Mohammad Zargham