(Adds comments from McCain, Obama)
By Jason Szep and Caren Bohan
NEW YORK, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Presidential rivals John McCain and Barack Obama suspended their fierce political skirmishing on Thursday in honor of the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, shaking hands at rare joint appearance.
Taking a breather from their campaign-trail feud, Republican McCain and Democrat Obama refrained from airing political ads for one day and came together at the site of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks in New York.
They shook hands and walked shoulder to shoulder down a 482-foot (147-metre) ramp into the Ground Zero area, where they greeted police officers and rescue workers at a memorial site, as Americans honored the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks in ceremonies in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.
The two candidates for the Nov. 4 election each laid roses in a flower-covered pool with wooden squares representing the footprints of each of the twin towers, and then bowed their heads. They also embraced relatives of Sept. 11 victims.
When the two rivals met, McCain patted Obama’s back and said, “Good to see you.”
The cordial tone continued into a live televised forum in New York where McCain was asked if he would be willing to create a cabinet-level post for public service and offer the job to Obama. He paused, smiled and replied “yes.”
Asked the same question, Obama said he would offer such a post to McCain, praising the four-term senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war, for years of public service. “Senator McCain’s service is legendary,” Obama said.
The two, appearing separately, also agreed on the need to expand the military and urged elite colleges like Columbia University where the forum was held to lift bans on military recruiters to reduce class inequality in the armed services.
Earlier in the day, McCain attended a memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where one of the hijacked airliners crashed in a field during a struggle as passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 battled the hijackers to take control of a plane believed headed for the U.S. Capitol.
“No American living then should ever forget the heroism that occurred in the skies above this field on September 11, 2001,” McCain, an Arizona senator, said before laying a wreath and joining an annual reading of passenger names.
Obama, an Illinois senator, said those who died in the attacks would not be forgotten. “We will always remember the heroic efforts of our firefighters, police and emergency responders, and those who sacrificed their own lives on Flight 93 to protect their fellow Americans,” he said.
Obama did not halt campaign activity entirely. He had lunch with former President Bill Clinton who agreed to campaign for him. “I predict that Senator Obama will win and will pretty handily,” Clinton told reporters.
“There you go,” Obama added. “You can take it from the president of the United States. He knows a little something about politics.”
A CNN poll released on Thursday showed the threat of terrorism was the fourth most important issue for U.S. voters, behind the economy — picked by more than half — and the Iraq war and health care.
McCain is heavily favored over Obama by voters to handle security and foreign policy issues, opinion polls show.
Until recently, McCain stressed his national security expertise and criticized Obama as too inexperienced for the White House. He has shifted his argument since picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, portraying their ticket as the true agents of change in the White House election. (Writing by Jason Szep and John Whitesides, editing by Chris Wilson)