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Friday's US Presidential Debate Remains in Doubt

Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama are taking a rare break from the campaign trail to join President Bush and congressional leaders at the White House for a meeting on the U.S. financial crisis. McCain and Obama are scheduled for their first debate Friday, but that event is now in doubt. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Before returning to Washington to deal with the financial crisis, both candidates spoke to former President Bill Clinton's annual meeting of his Global Initiative Project in New York.

Senator McCain said he is confident Congress and the Bush administration can agree on a financial bailout plan within the next few days.

But McCain stood by his decision to suspend his presidential campaign and a call to delay Friday's first presidential debate at the University of Mississippi.

"A great deal is being asked of the American people, and great care must be taken to ensure their protection," he said. "As most of you know, I am an old Navy pilot and I know when a crisis calls for all hands on deck. That is the situation in Washington at this very hour when the whole future of the American economy is in danger. I cannot carry on a campaign as though this dangerous situation had not occurred or as though a solution were at hand, which it clearly is not."

McCain's Democratic Party opponent, Senator Barack Obama, also addressed the Clinton conference by satellite from Florida, where he is preparing for Friday's debate.

Obama echoed McCain's call for swift congressional action on a bailout plan that includes safeguards for taxpayers and homeowners.

"It is outrageous that we find ourselves in a situation where taxpayers must bear the burden and the risk for greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street and Washington," he said. "But we also know that failure to act would have grave consequences for jobs, for savings and retirement for the American people."

Obama and McCain also want to prevent Wall Street executives responsible for the financial crisis from benefiting from the bailout plan.

But Obama also made it clear that he intends to attend Friday's scheduled presidential debate in Mississippi.

"Our election is in 40 days, our economy is in crisis and our nation is fighting two wars abroad," he said. "The American people, I believe, deserve to hear directly from myself and Senator McCain about how we intend to lead our country. The times are too serious to put our campaigns on hold or to ignore the full range of issues that the next president will face."

McCain's surprise call to delay the first of three presidential debates appeared to catch the Obama campaign off guard and has added a new element of uncertainty to the presidential race.

Many Republicans have praised McCain for suspending his campaign, saying it shows he is willing to put the country's needs above politics.

But many Democrats have criticized McCain for what they say is a political stunt that will do little to bring about a compromise bailout plan in Congress.