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Zardari tries to woo US vice president hopeful
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, SEPT 25 (Agencies):
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Published on 26 Sep. 2008 1:07 AM IST
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When John McCain and Sarah Palin attended a campaign rally in a small town called Vienna in Ohio last week, the joke was they went to Vienna (also the name of Austria's capital) so that the former Alaskan beauty queen, political lightweight, and vice-presidential nominee could get some foreign policy experience. On Wednesday, McCain threw her to the wolves, keeping himself busy with the economic crisis while sending Palin to meet with various world leaders attending the UN Session in New York, including India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. All in an effort, it seemed, to get her some heavyweight foreign policy exposure. How did it go? No one quite knows, because Palin's minders, intent on shielding her from a predatory liberal media, provided limited photo-op look-in to the press, leading to spotty, hyperbolic accounts. Palin's meeting with Zardari was dominated by the Pakistani leader trying to charm her with smooth talk and flattery. According to media accounts from the photo-op, Pakistan's information minister Sherry Rehman, who greeted Palin as she entered, tried softening her first. ''And how does one keep looking that good when one is that busy?'' Rehman gushed, drawing friendly laughter from the room. ''Oh, thank you,'' Palin said. When Zardari walked in, he turned it up a few notches, telling Palin that she was ''even more gorgeous'' than he had expected. ''You are so nice. Thank you,'' Palin responded, seeming to change the subject, but Zardari continued. ''Now I know why the whole of America is crazy about you.'' It didn't end there. When a cameraman asked them to shake hands again so that he could get the right shots, Zardari really turned it on: "If he's insisting, I might hug.'' Evidently, Zardari hadn't heard of the episode regarding former Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who is said to have famously boasted that there wasn't a woman he could not seduce. When he tried to impress US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he came to grief. ''There was this test of wills where he was trying to use all his charms on her as a woman, and she just basically stared him down,'' Rice's biographer Marcus Marby would recall later. ''By the end of the meeting, he was babbling.'' Palin, however, was much kinder to the recently widowed Zardari. When things quieted down, she extended her condolences on the death of Zardari's wife Benazir Bhutto and also expressed her sympathy at the recent bombing of the Marriott Hotel. Zardari then invited Palin and John McCain to visit Pakistan if they win the election. Palin's meeting with Singh was the last of half a dozen tete-e-tete's with world leaders that began with calls on the leaders of Georgia and Ukraine. But McCain left her to take care of the economic crisis, leaving Palin to handle the tougher meetings, including with Iraq's Jalal Talabani and Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, before she meets Zardari and Singh. The US media, seething at the limited access her camp provided, mocked her efforts. One late-night show amplified part of her exchange with Karzai, where she inquires about his new born child. ''His name is Mirwaiz,'' which means light of the house, Karzai explains. Palin was originally scheduled to accompany McCain to the meeting, but the presidential candidate dropped out because of his preoccupation with the economic crisis. After greeting Singh with a limp handshake, Palin explained his absence to the Indian leader. ''Of course, what he's working on, the economic matters, in terms of our nation, impacts India,'' she said gravely. "So it is very important that he deal with those matters.'' Singh, a former economics professor himself, evidently did not mind -- McCain has been an ardent supporter of the nuclear deal -- as he launched into his tutorial.

 
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