Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Obama, Cameron tread cautiously on BP, Lockerbie

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday rejected calls for an inquiry into whether BP plc influenced the release of the Lockerbie bomber, even as he sought to ease transatlantic tensions in talks with US President Barack Obama.

Determined not to let the Lockerbie controversy and BP's role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill overshadow their White House meeting, the two leaders reaffirmed the much-vaunted "special relationship" between their countries.

Cameron said he understood US anger over BP's role in the spill and tried to defuse US lawmakers' concerns that the company may have had a hand in Scottish authorities' release last year of a Libyan convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

But Cameron, under pressure at home to stand up for the British energy giant against the bashing it has faced in Washington, also insisted it was in US and British interests for the company to remain strong and viable.

Obama, whose approval ratings have been undercut by public outrage over the spill ... also played down the simmering controversy over the Lockerbie case.

"I completely understand the anger that exists right across America. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a catastrophe," Cameron told reporters as he stood side by side with Obama in his first US visit since taking power in May.

"It is BP's role to cap the leak, clean up the mess and pay appropriate compensation," Cameron said.

But he also cautioned, "Let us not confuse the oil spill with the Libyan bomber."

Cameron insisted BP had no role in the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, which he opposed at the time as opposition leader, and pledged his government's aid in any US Senate probe into the matter.

Steering clear of any public disagreement, Obama said he was confident the British government would cooperate to make sure all the facts are known.

In an apparent bid to assuage US concerns, Cameron ordered his Cabinet secretary to review documents in the case and met US lawmakers on the issue on Tuesday.

But he rejected in advance their demands for a full British investigation. "I don't need an inquiry to tell me what was a bad decision," Cameron said.

New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, one of four senators who met Cameron, said they were in agreement Megrahi should not have been released but that did not mean "case closed."

"Only with complete information about the circumstances surrounding al-Megrahi's release can we get the full understanding that is needed to determine the next steps," Menendez said in a statement after the meeting.

Menendez, who will chair a hearing next week on the release, also said Cameron gave assurances his government would cooperate with requests from the Senate.

[From a report on the website of the Reuters news agency.]

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