NEW ORLEANS — President Obama and Republican Sarah Palin sparred from a distance over nuclear policy with each questioning the other’s experience on the issue in a potential preview of the 2012 White House race.

“Unbelievable,” Palin said earlier this week after Obama rewrote the U.S. nuclear strategy, and she suggested the president was weak on nuclear defense.

Obama, in Prague to sign a nuclear reduction treaty with Russia, countered by saying the former Alaska governor who resigned midway through her first term was “not much of an expert” on nuclear issues.

Palin shot back Friday during a speech to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans with a reference to Obama’s early career choice. Mocking the president, she dismissed “all the vast nuclear experience that he acquired as a community organizer.”

The spat foreshadowed what the country could see come the next presidential race should Palin win the GOP nomination.

Palin likened Obama to a kid poised for a playground fight who said, “Go ahead, punch me in the face and I’m not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me.”

She was particularly incensed about the policy that says if a non-nuclear state were to use chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies, it would face a potentially devastating conventional military strike by the United States, but not a nuclear one.

In Prague, Obama was asked by ABC News to respond.

Obama said, “If the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I’m probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin.”