WASHINGTON / NEW YORK, Oct 3 For Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden, Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world, with nuclear weapons that can hit Israel and the Mediterranean.

His Republican rival Sarah Palin also considers Pakistan dangerous, but sees Iran as the greatest threat to the world peace.

Senator Biden also believes that the current economic crisis may force Democrats to reconsider their plans for increasing US foreign assistance which can also affect his proposal for a $15 billion, 10-year package for Pakistan.

The two vice presidential candidates clashed on Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their debate telecast live on Thursday night.

Issues related to the US financial crisis also figured prominently in the only debate between two presidential candidates.

“They`re both extremely dangerous,” said Senator Biden when asked to compare Iran with Pakistan. “I have been focussing on for a long time, along with Barack, on Pakistan.

“Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. Pakistan already has deployed nuclear weapons. Pakistan`s weapons can already hit Israel and the Mediterranean.”

The Democratic candidate, however, explained that while Iran`s intentions may be more dangerous than Pakistan`s, it did not have the capability to implement them. “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be very, very destabilising. (But) they are not close to getting a nuclear weapon that`s able to be deployed,” he said.

“So they`re both very dangerous. They both would be game changers.”

Mr Biden criticised Republican presidential candidate John McCain for insisting that Iraq continued to be the central point in the war again terror.

“I promise you, if an attack comes in the homeland, it`s going to come as our security services have said, it is going to come from Al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said.

Mr Biden then warned that Pakistan was even more dangerous than Afghanistan because that`s where Al Qaeda`s senior leaders were hiding. “That`s where they live. That`s where they are.

“That`s where it will come from. And right now that (the threat) resides in Pakistan.”

The senator, however, said the US should help Pakistan establish a stable government. “We need to support that democracy by helping them not only with their military but with their governance and their economic well-being,” he remarked.

Mr Biden claimed that 7,000 madressahs had been built along the Afghan-Pakistan border. “We should be helping them build schools to compete for those hearts and minds of the people in the region so that we`re actually able to take on terrorism and by the way, that`s where Bin Laden lives and we will go at him if we have actually intelligence,” he said.

Governor Palin also saw a nuclear and unstable Pakistan as a threat to US interests but said Iran was worse. “Both are extremely dangerous, of course,” she said.

“An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous to consider. They cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons period.”

She saw Iran posing a direct threat to Israel, America`s greatest ally in the Middle East. “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, a stinking corpse, a country that should be wiped off the face of the earth.”

Ms Palin chastised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for criticising Israel. “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.

She criticised Senator Barack Obama for saying last year that if elected, he would hold talks with the Iranian leader.

“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,” she said.

Senator Biden, while talking about the impact of the current economic crisis on US foreign policies, said “Well, the one thing we might have to slow down is a commitment we made to double foreign assistance. We`ll probably have to slow that down.”

Mr Biden sought to link Senator McCain to the policies of President George W. Bush, saying he was “no maverick”.

“John continues to tell us that the central war in the front on terror is in Iraq. I promise you, if an attack comes in the homeland, it`s going to come... from Al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That`s where they live,” he said.

Ms Palin defended herself against claims of inexperience and said the McCain ticket would bring change.

Voter polls suggested Mr Biden had won, but Mrs Palin did better than expected.

The debate at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, was seen as particularly crucial for Ms Palin, whose poll ratings have fallen.

Ms Palin conceded that “there have been huge blunders in the war. There have been huge blunders throughout this administration, as there are with every administration.”

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