Palin begins course on foreign affairs

Sarah Palin was on the fringes of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday at the start of a three-day crash course on international affairs to address concerns, even within her Republican party, that the Alaska governor’s knowledge of the outside world is shaky.

The schedule of the vice-presidential nominee included meetings with five presidents, a prime minister, Henry Kissinger, doyen of former US secretaries of state, and Bono, the fund-raising activist.

Organisers of an anti-Iran rally protesting against the presence at the General Assembly debate of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad withdrew an invitation for Ms Palin to attend. Hillary Clinton had already pulled out after she learned Ms Palin had also been invited.

Ms Palin’s first meeting on Tuesday was with Hamid Karzai, the US-backed president of Afghanistan, whose government is fighting a resurgent Taliban with the support of US and other international forces.

Detailed examination of the problems facing Afghanistan will be at the top of the list of foreign policy concerns for the next US administration. Ms Palin’s meeting with Mr Karzai and other world leaders, however, was expected at this stage to be on the level of “meet-and-greet”. The Afghan leader was also due to have a more substantial meeting with Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state.

Ms Palin has been ridiculed by her Democratic opponents for having obtained her first passport only last year. They have also claimed the visit she had paid to Iraq – a visit to a checkpoint at the Kuwaiti border – hardly qualified her as an expert on a conflict that posed the most serious challenge of the outgoing administration.

John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, is promoting his knowledge of international affairs as a selling point in his campaign, playing down the disadvantages of his running mate’s relative lack of experience. Her meeting with Mr Kissinger was to bring her face-to-face with the man who personifies old-style Republican pragmatism in foreign affairs, a trend that has been making a comeback in the closing years of the Bush administration.

On one issue confronting the international community, however, the two running mates appear to be at odds – climate change. While Mr McCain has embraced the view that people are responsible for climate, she has focused policies in her native Alaska on adapting to global warming rather than fighting it.

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