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Palin: I didn't blink when McCain asked me to be his VP

Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, said in her debut interview last night that she "didn't blink" when John McCain asked her to be his running mate and that she was "ready" to hold the country's second-highest office, or even the presidency if required.

She also defended a previous statement in which she reportedly characterised the war in Iraq as a "task from God".

The 44-year-old first-term Governor of Alaska insisted that her background in dealing with Alaska's oil and gas industry had provided her with enough experience to handle major issues of national security. Governor Palin obtained her first passport last year and has made only one trip abroad, but she insisted to ABC News that she was up to the challenge of being Vice-President or even President should John McCain, 72, become incapacitated.

The first of several interviews with Charles Gibson of ABC News is being broadcast over two days and the questions focused largely on foreign policy. Mrs Palin was well briefed in advance by a team of advisers from Mr McCain's campaign. But the the format was more akin to a celebrity interview than a forensic analysis of a vice-presidential candidate 55 days before an election.

The probing but gentle mannered Mr Gibson interviewed Mrs Palin in Fairbanks, Alaska, on the seventh anniversary of the 11 September attacks. It was also the day that Mrs Palin, a mother of five, attended the deployment ceremony for her oldest son, Track, who is going to serve Iraq later this month.

Mrs Palin is a conservative, anti-abortion and pro-gun rights mother of five, who has fired up Republican Party grassroots members and ignited a surge of momentum for Mr McCain. She was also reminded about remarks she made at an evangelical church in her home town of Wasilla when she asked the congregation to pray for war in Iraq, saying: "Our national leaders are sending US soldiers on a task that is from God".

Mr Gibson asked her if she thought the US was fighting a holy war. Mrs Palin, a Pentecostalist Christian who believes in Creationism, deflected the question, saying the words were a reference to remarks made by Abraham Lincoln. Mrs Palin said: "I would never presume to know God's will or to speak God's words. But what Abraham Lincoln had said...was: 'Let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God's side".

Asked if she believed she was "sending [her] son on a task that is from God," she replied: "I don't know if the task is from God, Charlie."

The advance publicity for the interview on ABC's website billed it as: "Exclusive: Governor Sarah Palin warns war may be necessary if Russia invades another country."

But Mrs Palin's hard line on Georgia consisted of repeating Mr McCain's position that the US would have to protect it from a Russian invasion if the former Soviet Republic were to join Nato. "We've got to keep an eye on Russia," she said, "For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable".

But she also appeared nervous and did not seem to know what Mr Gibson was talking about when he asked: "Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?"

Governor Palin said: "In what respect, Charlie?" as Mr Gibson brusquely told her it meant the right of "anticipatory self-defence."

"What do you interpret it to be?" he asked.

Governor Palin responded: "His world view?"

Mr Gibson replied: "No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war."

Governor Palin finally responded: "I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though."

Asked twice more if she agreed with the Bush doctrine, Governor Palin finally replied: "Charlie, if there is a legitimate and enough intelligence that tells us that a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country. In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend."

Governor Palin also used the interview to defend John McCain's big stick foreign policy saying that it was not for her to second guess how Israel protected itself from a nuclear armed Iran and backing up the Bush war on terror. The US could not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons she declared. As Americans, "we do not have to stand for that" she said while calling for new sanctions.

There is enormous public interest in Mrs Palin who has been largely sequestered from the press. ABC is trying to milk the ratings by presenting the interview in three segments an dit is not clear whether Governor Palin will submit to further interviews.

Mr Gibson began by asking Mrs Palin if she hesitated or even questioned whether she was experienced enough to be Vice-President or even President.

"I didn't hesitate, no," Mrs Palin said. "I answered him yes, because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink. You have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink. So I didn't blink then even when asked to run as his running mate."

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