BP tensions shadow Cameron's first visit to the White House

David Cameron’s first visit to the White House as Great Britain’s prime minister Tuesday will be shadowed by the problems of BP.

The oil company at the center of the Gulf spill is one of the most important companies in Great Britain, since pension funds in the country are heavily invested in it.

The sharp drop in BP’s stock since the oil spill has unnerved Great Britain and sparked criticism that the U.S. government’s actions could hurt British pensioners. The company is also under fire from U.S. senators who accuse it of being involved in the controversial release of the convicted bomber of Pan-Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

ADVERTISEMENT
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other senators from New York and New Jersey said BP lobbied for the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi last year to advance oil deals in Libya. Al-Megrahi, said at the time to have only three months to live, was released last August and arrived in Libya to a hero’s welcome. He’s still alive and is reported to be working on what could be a lucrative book.

During his visit, Cameron will be seeking to soothe tensions in the “special relationship” between the U.S. and United Kingdom, and will underline the importance of BP to the U.S. and British economies.

“It is important that at the end of this process you have got a strong and stable company that is able to survive, not least so they can pay the compensation that the Americans want, but also so they can go on and succeed as a great British company,” Cameron said Friday during remarks in central England.

Cameron spokesman Steve Field said over the weekend he didn’t expect BP to be “a major issue” during the White House visit, according to Bloomberg News.

But Cameron met with BP’s chairman on Friday in advance of the Washington trip, and British officials have worked to respond to allegations surrounding BP on the Lockerbie bomber’s release.

Cameron on Monday told the BBC that as leader of the Conservative Party, he “could not have been more clear” that he thought the decision to release al-Megrahi “was completely and utterly wrong.”

Britain’s liberal party was in power when al-Megrahi was released.

Cameron added that he had “no idea what BP did. I am not responsible for BP.”

BP has acknowledged discussions over Libya with the U.K. government, but insisted it did not broach the topic of al-Megrahi.
British Foreign Secretary William Straw wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week to say there is no evidence that BP was involved in the release of al-Megrahi.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the matter next week.

Cameron, who previously pressed Obama to back off his criticism of BP, suggested on Friday that he would be working to ensure BP is only liable for compensation claims directly related to the oil spill. Under pressure from the Obama administration, BP is setting up a $20 billion claims fund for spill victims.

“They do need some sort of clarity that the compensation claims won't go into sort of tertiary and further claims which aren't really related to the mistakes that BP made,” Cameron said in a video on the prime minister’s website.

“One of the points I have made to President Obama, and I will make again, is 40 percent of BP shares are held here, but I think it's 39 percent are held in America,” Cameron said.

“There are tens of thousands of jobs BP provides in Britain, but there are also tens of thousands of jobs it provides in America,” Cameron added.

This will be the second meeting between Obama and Cameron since the latter became prime minister.

The two previously met at the G-20 in Toronto in June, where they held a bilateral meeting and worked to show off their good relations.

The meeting took place soon after the U.S. and England tied in a World Cup soccer match. Obama and Cameron placed a bet involving English and Chicago beer, and both paid off the other since the game ended in a tie.