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Aide who said terror attack would benefit McCain faces calls to quit

A foreign policy adviser to John McCain is under pressure to quit after he suggested that a terror attack on the US between now and the presidential election would translate into a "big advantage" for the Republican nominee.

Charlie Black issued a statement regretting the remark, which came in an interview he gave for the July issue of Fortune magazine. "I deeply regret the comments," he said. "They were inappropriate. I recognise that John McCain has devoted his entire adult life to protecting his country and placing its security before every other consideration."

At the heart of the controversy was his suggestion that a terror attack would "certainly be a big advantage to" to Mr McCain. He also said that the "unfortunate event" of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December "helped us".

Mr McCain was quick to disown his adviser's remarks. "I cannot imagine why he would say it. It's not true," he said on the campaign trail. "I've worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America. My record is very clear."

The Obama campaign directed reporters yesterday to Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the 9/11 Commission that investigated the terror attacks of 2001. He said Mr Black's remarks were "a candid and very disappointing glimpse into the thinking of one of McCain's closest advisers". While he did not flatly ask Mr Black to resign, he added: "I think the remarks were so out of place that they call for some recalibration in the thinking and perhaps a greater adherence to principle here in staying away from the politics of fear."

The McCain camp has hardly made any secret of its interest in painting Mr Obama as insufficiently experienced on foreign affairs and, by implication, potentially less well prepared to protect the country from further attacks. However, the attempts of Republicans in the 2006 US Congressional elections to portray Democrats as soft on terrorists apparently had little impact on voters.

Earlier, Mr Obama's spokesman, Bill Burton, had characterised the remark by Mr Black as a "complete disgrace" and "exactly the kind of politics that needs to change".

* Former president Bill Clinton will support Barack Obama in the US presidential election this autumn, his spokesman has said. It is the first time the former president has indicated he would support his wife's former rival since the Democratic primary battle ended three weeks ago.

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