Monday, July 19, 2010

UK and US Leaders to Discuss BP Future

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will meet Barack Obama in Washington tomorrow, using his first trip to the U.S. as British leader to quell criticism of BP Plc.
Cameron, who met BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg July 16, indicated he’ll tell Obama that London-based BP, Europe’s second-largest energy company by market value, needs to survive if it’s to make good on its promise to compensate victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
“It’s important at the end of the day that we have a strong and stable company that’s able to survive,” Cameron told a public meeting July 16 in Luton, near London. “Not least so they can pay compensation.”
As BP sealed the leak last week, a U.S. senate probe suggested there were links between BP’s interests and the 2009 release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi, risking further damage to the company. While Cameron’s spokesman Steve Field said yesterday he didn’t expect that to be “a major issue” for the leaders, Britain has raised the issue with the U.S. at least three times in the past four days.
Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 17, saying there was no evidence BP was involved in the release. He also spoke to her by phone about it July 16. The previous day, Ambassador to the U.S. Nigel Sheinwald wrote Senator John Kerry, whose Foreign Relations Committee is holding a hearing on the matter. He said “inaccuracies” about the Lockerbie bomber were “harmful to the U.K.”
‘Personal Relationship’
Field said Cameron wants to “build his personal relationship” with Obama. The prime minister last week set out how he sees Britain’s relationship with America, offering the U.K. as a “junior partner.” He’s previously said he wants to focus on diplomacy beyond the U.S., pointing to India as a potential partner. That’s a shift from the stance of his predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who sought to show their closeness to the White House.
“This is the most difficult part of the dance that’s coming up,” said Robin Niblett, director of London-based foreign affairs institute Chatham House. “He wants to say he’s more unsentimental about this relationship than his predecessors It’s fairly easy to say that when you’re at home, but when you get there, how do you say it to your host, who’s going to be very important to you in the coming years?”
The row over Lockerbie follows Obama’s criticism of BP over the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. Shares of BP have dropped 36 percent this year as the company fought the biggest spill in U.S. history. The stock on Friday rose 1.3 percent in London trading after the company said it stopped the flow of oil for the first time it rupture in April.
Meghari Remains Alive
Megrahi was freed by Scotland, which has an independent justice system, on compassionate grounds in August because he was dying of cancer. He remains alive. The Libyan was jailed in 2001 for the 1988 killing of 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said last week it will hold a hearing on July 29 into the circumstances of Megrahi’s release. Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said the panel will ask BP officials to testify. BP signed an exploration agreement with Libya’s National Oil Corp. in May 2007 during a visit by then Prime Minister Tony Blair.
“There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegations of BP involvement in the Scottish Executive’s decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009,” Hague wrote to Clinton. “Nor any suggestion that the Scottish Executive decided to release Megrahi in order to facilitate oil deals for BP.”
At the time of Megrahi’s release, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he couldn’t intervene in Scotland’s decision. Afterward, he said he had been “repulsed” by the hero’s welcome Megrahi was given on his return to Libya. His government later said it had supported the release on diplomatic grounds, while insisting it hadn’t been involved in the decision.
Cameron, who replaced Brown in May, opposed the release at the time, a point Hague made in his letter to Clinton.
The prime minister and Obama will meet one-on-one in the White House before being joined by officials for a working lunch. Cameron will later have meetings in Congress. On Wednesday he’ll visit the Pentagon for a briefing on Afghanistan.
U.K. Defence Secretary Liam Fox yesterday told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the prime minister’s goal of withdrawing British combat troops from the country by 2015 was “quite conservative.” Britain is increasing its aid package to the country with the aim of increasing stability.
To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton in London at

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