White House looks to soothe tensions with U.K. over BP oil spill, Lockerbie

The White House insisted Monday that tensions over BP will not limit cooperation between President Obama and Great Britain Prime Minister David Cameron on the Afghanistan war and other issues.

“I don’t think it will hamper any of our discussions,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said ahead of Cameron’s visit to the Oval Office on Tuesday. 

Gibbs said that Afghanistan would be at the forefront of talks between the two leaders, but that they would also discuss BP and the Gulf oil spill as well as charges from several Senate Democrats that BP pressured Great Britain’s government to release a man convicted in the Lockerbie bombing to improve its chances of oil deals with Libya. 

On that latter issue, the White House appeared ready to provide Cameron with some cover, noting that he was not in power when Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of blowing up Pan-Am flight 103, was released.

“Our viewpoint on this case last year was well-known, and that was we opposed the release of the Lockerbie bomber. We made that opinion known,” Gibbs said. 

He noted that Cameron’s government “also opposed that release” and said he anticipated the subject would come up in some form during the meeting between the leaders. 

Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Biden to host Sinema for meeting on infrastructure proposal MORE (D-N.Y.) and other Senate Democrats from New York and New Jersey demanded a meeting with Cameron, but were reportedly rebuffed due to time constraints. Cameron is scheduled to meet with House and Senate leaders from both parties on Tuesday. 

Sen. John KerryJohn KerryChina emitted more greenhouse gasses than US, developed world combined in 2019: analysis Overnight Energy: Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process| EPA official directs agency to ramp up enforcement in overburdened communities | Meet Flint prosecutor Kym Worthy Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process MORE (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, which has scheduled a hearing the following week on the BP-Lockerbie allegations, will attend the meeting. 

Cameron, just about two months into office, comes to the U.S. as anger and concern over the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico remain intense. The British leader has tried to calm some of the U.S. rhetoric targeting BP, and Gibbs on Monday sought to downplay any differences between the two leaders.

“The president is certainly looking for BP to live up to its monetary obligations to pay the damages and the fines that it will be assessed as a result of this disaster,” he said. “And I think that’s what the prime minister has said as well.”
Obama and Cameron are walking the same tightrope on a number of politically perilous issues.

Cameron is under fire in England for continuing to commit resources to the unpopular Afghanistan war effort while cutting spending in virtually all other areas.

Obama can likely empathize, as lawmakers and the American public have grown increasingly skeptical of the cost of fighting a war many now doubt the U.S. can win.

Both also face challenges surrounding BP, a hugely important company for Great Britain. 

One of Cameron’s messages during the trip will be that BP is an economic driver in both countries. 

“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 Friday.

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

British pension funds are invested heavily in BP, and the company’s stock dive has been unnerving. 

On the Lockerbie episode, Cameron has emphasized that his party opposed the release of al-Megrahi. Other British officials have said there is no evidence that BP had anything to do with his 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.

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

This will be the second meeting between the two leaders, who also met on the margins of last month’s G-20 meeting in Toronto.