BEN FELLER,
Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW (AP) — Sasha Obama as Agent 99?

President Barack Obama says his daughters proved to be “great travelers” on the family’s visit to Russia and they’re fitting right in — even at the Kremlin.

“Sasha was walking down one of the halls of the Kremlin yesterday,” Obama told ABC on Tuesday. “She had her trench coat on, had her pockets in her trench coat.”

The president joked that he and his wife had taken to calling their 8-year-old daughter “Agent 99.”

“She just looked like she knew where she was going,” Obama said. “I thought she was going to pull out her shoe phone.”

Obama found a lot of things to praise about Russian culture in his speech to graduates of Moscow’s New Economic School, including painters, composers, dancers — and one hockey player in particular.

“As a resident of Washington, I continue to benefit from the contributions of Russians — specifically, from Alexander Ovechkin,” Obama said.

The Washington Capitals star has earned the Hart Trophy as the National Hockey League’s MVP the past two seasons.

Obama already knows timing is everything in politics — and sometimes that’s true in matters of travel, too.

The president told the Moscow graduates he was honored to be addressing them. And to be doing so now.

“As someone who was born in Hawaii,” he said, “I’m glad to be here in July instead of January.”

Even in Moscow, the president couldn’t get away from the intense interest in anything related to the death of pop star Michael Jackson. It came up repeatedly in a round of interviews with U.S. television networks.

He joked with ABC that “at some point, people will start focusing again on things like nuclear weapons.”

“You know, this is part of American culture,” he told the network.

Asked about the emotional outpouring over Jackson’s death, Obama harked back to the deaths of other famous musicians.

“I think we saw it when Elvis died; in a different way you saw it when Frank Sinatra died; you saw it when John Lennon died,” Obama told CBS. “There are certain figures in our popular culture that just capture our people’s imaginations and in death they become even larger.”

Obama added, though, that the interest this time also is being fed by “a 24/7 media that is insatiable.”

Which early Jackson song still runs through the president’s mind?
“I remember listening to ‘A-B-C’ when I was 8 or 9 or 10,” Obama told CNN. “He kept on producing extraordinary music for years after that.”

The president, something of an expert on American politics, had a chance to weigh in on the resignation of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but passed up an opportunity to predict what’s next for John McCain’s running mate on last year’s GOP presidential ticket.

“She has a fiercely loyal constituency within the Republican Party and in the conservative movement,” Obama told NBC. “But, you know, she says that this is something that is best for her family, and I respect that.”

Obama gave Russian President Dmitry Medvedev a morning-after thumbs-up Tuesday for their dinner the previous evening at the Russian president’s home outside Moscow.
“I had a great time last night and Michelle had a wonderful time,” the U.S. president told Medvedev. “And we very much enjoyed meeting your son. He’s a good young man.”

What Obama probably didn’t realize is that he is among the very few to have met or even seen Medvedev’s son, Ilya, a young teen. The one or two photographs that have appeared in the Russian press have not shown his face.

Ilya, an only child, lives a much more secluded life than Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, whose every public move is the subject of endless fascination. He does not appear in public with his parents and Russians know little about him, not even where he goes to school.

Obama had a slip of the lip in his interview with NBC, referring to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as “President Putin.”

But he insisted that the inflated title he bestowed on Putin, who used to be president and still exercises great influence, was of no import.

“I don’t think it’s Freudian,” Obama said. “He used to be president.”

Associated Press writer Lynn Berry contributed to this report.

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