British Prime Minister rebuffs Senate calls for Lockerbie investigation

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday rebuffed calls from the Senate for a full investigation of BP’s involvement in the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Cameron restated his opposition to the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, whom the prime minister repeatedly called a “mass murderer” during a press conference at the White House with President Obama.

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But Cameron added that he saw no reason for a further official British inquiry into what role BP might have played in the Scottish government’s decision to release al-Megrahi from prison.

“I’m not currently minded that we need to have a U.K.-based inquiry on this, partly for this reason: I don’t need an inquiry to tell me what was a bad decision,” said Cameron, who became prime minister in May.

Senators from New York and New Jersey charge that circumstantial evidence suggests the release was meant to secure oil deals in Libya for BP. British officials have said there is no such evidence, and BP has flatly denied the charges.

Al-Megrahi was released nearly a year ago on the grounds that he had only three months to live. He’s still alive, and said to be writing a book that could be lucrative.

New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) expressed disappointment with what he heard from Cameron during a lunch meeting also attended by Senate leaders from both parties.

“He said they would look more deeply into what they have. He said they would take ‘a serious look,’ ” Lautenberg said of the conversation.

“But we want it to go deeper. To me, a full investigation means an open forum, committee hearings and things like that. This sounds much more guarded.”

At the White House, Cameron said his government will “engage constructively” with a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the issue next week.

Cameron initially had not planned on meeting with the New Jersey and New York senators, but rescheduled upon his arrival. He was set to meet all four senators at the British Embassy on Tuesday night.

The prime minister spent much of his public time with Obama working hard to show there is no distance between his government and the U.S. on the Lockerbie questions and other issues. Cameron said he and Obama are in “violent agreement” that al-Megrahi should not have been released.

Cameron and Obama both made an effort to show off their good relations during a press conference in the White House’s East Room.

The two joked about their bet over the World Cup, and Cameron repeatedly referred to Obama as “Barack.” He also revealed his tour had included the first family’s residence by noting the cleanliness of Obama daughters’ bedrooms.

For his part, Obama offered Cameron some cover on the Lockerbie issue, which had created tensions for the meeting.

“I think that the key thing to understand here is that we’ve got a British prime minister who shares our anger over the decision, who also objects to how it played out,” Obama said. “And so I’m fully supportive of Prime Minister Cameron’s efforts to gain a better understanding of it, to clarify it. But the bottom line is … that we all disagreed with it. It was a bad decision.”

Cameron did appear to make an effort to shield BP, the subject of U.S. anger over the Gulf oil spill, from further vilification over the Lockerbie bomber’s release. Cameron emphasized that the decision to release al-Megrahi was not made by BP, but by the Scottish government.

He also pleaded with Americans not to confuse the two issues, and underlined the importance of BP to both economies.

“Thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic depend on it,” Cameron said. “So it’s in the interest of both our countries, as we agreed, that it remains a strong and stable company for the future.”

At the same time, Cameron said he “completely understand[s] the anger that exists right across America.”

“The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a catastrophe — for the environment, for the fishing industry, for tourism,” Cameron said. “I’ve been absolutely clear about that. And like President Obama, I’ve also been clear that it is BP’s role to cap the leak, to clean up the mess, and to pay appropriate compensation.”

On Afghanistan, the issue that dominated the two leaders’ time together before their press conference, Obama and Cameron pledged to continue to work together, and both men endorsed the strategy Obama signed onto late last year.

Obama and Cameron hailed the achievements from the ongoing security summit in Kabul, and Obama noted that al Qaeda has “killed innocent civilians in both of our countries.”

“This is not an easy fight, but it is a necessary one,” Obama said.

This story was originally published at 3:08 p.m. and updated at 8:32 p.m.

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