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World leaders move to stem economic tide

WASHINGTON — World leaders moved toward agreement Friday on an early warning system for financial calamities, a commitment to tougher accounting rules and other modest steps to begin restoring stability in a crisis threatening the livelihoods of billions of people around the globe.

Nearly two dozen leaders met in Washington on Friday in the largest gathering of its kind here in nearly a decade. They dined in extravagance at the White House in a prelude to a day of negotiations Saturday over how best to wrestle both large and developing economies back from the brink of chaos.

The leaders were on track to approve measures to make the world financial system more accountable to investors and more transparent to regulators, diplomatic sources said.

Those sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because leaders had yet to agree on their final communiqué, said the emerging agreement calls for an action plan to improve international monitoring of markets. The leaders also were expected to endorse more effective rules governing how companies value their assets, a weakness seen as partly responsible for the current financial crisis.

A second summit is envisioned in early spring, after Barack Obama becomes president. The first meeting, called by President George W. Bush, falls in a period of transition that inevitably leaves unclear what actions the United States is ready to take in the months ahead.

"Billions of hardworking people are counting on us," Bush said on a night when urgent motorcades swept presidents and prime ministers through a dark Washington mist to the White House.

Altogether, the U.S. approach of boosting oversight of shaky financial markets seemed to be holding sway over Europe's desire for tougher internationally enforced regulation.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón met former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Rep. Jim Leach, and stressed that a return to protectionism would only complicate economic recovery efforts, according to the Mexican leader's office. Albright and Leach are representing Obama at the summit.

The president-elect stayed away from the meeting so as not to complicate matters for Bush.

Leaders from Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and India were among those in Washington.

A new "college of supervisors," made up of financial regulators from many nations, and an early warning system to detect weaknesses in the financial system — both aimed at raising the oversight and openness of international markets — were among the ideas likely to be included in a joint communiqué.

Bush has supported those types of ideas in the past, said White House press secretary Dana Perino, hinting that the leaders, whose delegates have been negotiating for weeks, were poised to agree.

The summit, meant to be the first in a series, has a two-pronged agenda: Discuss what might still need to be done to turn the world's economies back from the edge of disaster and explore ways to revamp the global financial system's architecture to prevent similar meltdowns in the future.

Fearing a Wall Street plunge if the summit produces little, the White House has been lowering expectations as fast as other nations have been raising them.

"This problem did not develop overnight, and it will not be solved overnight," Bush said in a dinner toast to his fellow leaders and their discussions. "But with continued cooperation and determination, it will be solved."

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