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US Vice Presidential Candidates Spar on Foreign Policy, Economy

Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden debated foreign policy and the economy Thursday night in the only vice presidential debate of the campaign. Alaskan Governor Palin, a newcomer to the national stage, stood her ground during her exchanges with the veteran U.S. Senator Biden in the highly anticipated event. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from the site of the debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

For most of the 90-minute debate, Governor Palin and Senator Biden took aim at their opponents at the top of the ticket.

Palin criticized Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's stance on the Iraq war, particularly his pledge to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within the first 16 months of his presidency, in consultation with commanders on the ground.

"Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq, and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that's for sure," she said.

Biden said Obama is committed to ending the unpopular war, unlike Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

"For John McCain, there is no end in sight to end this war. Fundamental difference: we will end this war," he said.

The war in Iraq has touched both vice presidential candidates personally. Governor Palin's son, Track, deployed to Iraq with the Army last month, and Senator Biden's son, Beau, is to leave Friday for Iraq as a member of the National Guard.

Palin accused Obama of wanting to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions.

"An issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naiveté and goes beyond poor judgment. A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous," she said.

Biden responded that, "He [Obama] did not say he would sit down with Ahmedinejad. It surprises me John McCain does not know Ahmadinejad does not control the security apparatus in Iran. The theocracy controls the security."

Palin and Biden both pledged to change current U.S. economic policy to benefit the middle class. Biden suggested McCain was out of touch with average Americans because he had said the fundamentals of the economy were strong just as the financial crisis broke out. Palin said her running mate was referring to a strong American workforce. She said Obama would raise taxes on Americans and small business owners. Obama has said he would cut taxes on the middle class and raise them only for those making more than $250,000.

Biden said the financial bailout package that was approved by the Senate this week, which he, Obama and McCain all approved, could force Obama to scale back his pledge to double foreign aid.

Following several recent interviews in which she appeared hesitant and shaky, Palin appeared confident and even folksy - as she did in response to Biden's efforts to tie McCain to the unpopular President Bush.

"So Joe, there you go again, pointing backwards again. You prefaced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have planned to do for them in the future," she said.

Palin said McCain is the candidate most suited to bring change because of his record as a maverick, taking on his own party when the time was right.

Biden responded that McCain has not been a maverick on any issue that Americans care about.