(photo credit: AP)
Both vice presidential candidates on Thursday affirmed their strong support for Israel and the importance of pushing for a two-state solution in their first and only debate, pointing to the issue as a rare area of agreement.
"A two-state solution is the solution," said Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. "Trying to forge that peace, that needs to be done, that will be a top-of-an-agenda item, also, under a McCain-Palin administration."
She was responding to a question on how to assess the Bush administration's recent push for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and in placing a high priority on that goal, she broke with McCain advisers who have downplayed it.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, meanwhile, reiterated a commitment to intense involvement with the peace process. Biden said he and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama would provide "thoughtful, real, live diplomacy that understands that you must back Israel in letting them negotiate, support their negotiation, and stand with them, not insist on policies like this administration has."
Biden contended that US President George W. Bush's policy toward Israel and its neighbors was an "abject failure" that had had enhanced the power of Hamas through Palestinian elections and Hizbullah through a failure to secure southern Lebanon with NATO troops.
Palin disagreed with Biden's assessment of Bush policy, but said she was "so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think that is a good thing to get to agree on, Senator Biden. I respect your position on that."
She also mentioned moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem as a future aim.
The candidates used their only debate to showcase personal qualities - Palin's folksy charm and Biden's senatorial demeanor - and to reassure voters about the qualifications they bring to the ticket.
Using foreign policy, they also attacked the other sides' weaknesses, with Biden hammering at his campaign's message that McCain would continue on Bush's path while Palin repeated a common Republican refrain that Obama's approach to Iran was dangerous and naÃ¯ve.
Referring to McCain, Biden claimed, "I haven't heard how his policy's going to be different on Iran than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy is going to be different with Israel than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Afghanistan is going to be different than George Bush's. I haven't heard how his policy in Pakistan is going to be different than George Bush's."
And referring to the likes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Palin charged, "Barack Obama has said he would be willing to meet with [dangerous dictators] without preconditions being met first.
"An issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naivete and goes beyond poor judgment. A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous because leaders like Ahmadinejad, who would seek to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the Earth an ally like we have in Israel, should not be met with without preconditions and diplomatic efforts being undertaken first."
But Biden argued that Bush's Middle East posture, which he had likened to McCain's, has only played into the hands of Iran.
"Speaking of freedom being on the march, the only thing on the march is Iran," he said. "It's closer to a bomb. Its proxies now have a major stake in Lebanon, as well as in the Gaza Strip with Hamas."
Earlier on Iran, PBS moderator Gwen Ifill asked which constituted the bigger threat, a nuclear Iran or an unstable Pakistan. Biden answered that both would be "dangerous" and "game-changers."
Pakistan, he said, has deployed nuclear weapons, which "can already hit Israel and the Mediterranean," while "Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be very, very destabilizing," but added that "they are not close to getting a nuclear weapon that's able to be deployed."
Palin also said both would be "extremely dangerous." Referring to Iran, she added, "They cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.
"Israel is in jeopardy, of course, when we're dealing with Ahmadinejad as a leader of Iran, Iran claiming that Israel, as he termed it, [is] a stinking corpse, a country that should be wiped off the face of the earth," she continued, echoing McCain's words at his first debate with Obama last week.
"Now a leader like Ahmadinejad who is not sane or stable when he says things like that is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons," she said.
The candidates also clashed on Iraq, energy policy, taxes and health care during the 90-minute debate in St. Louis, Missouri.
The debate was seen as reassuring Republicans about the abilities of Palin, the first-term governor of Alaska, to hold her own and make a claim on the vice presidency after TV interviews damaged her public standing.
But viewers still gave Biden, chairman of the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee with 35 years in office, higher marks in several polls that showed him beating his competitor by 15-point margins.
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