BP front and centre at Obama-Cameron meeting (News Feature)
By Mike McCarthy Jul 21, 2010, 1:18 GMT
Washington - BP Plc has had its share of public relations problems lately.
Britain's biggest company has been getting hammered in the United States for three months since the start of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and more recently over allegations that it pressured Scottish authorities to release the convicted Lockerbie bomber.
On Tuesday, the petroleum company got a little more negative publicity.
It became the primary topic at US President Barack Obama's and British Prime Minister David Cameron's first-ever - and closely watched - White House press conference, as the newly elected Cameron's effort to undo the damage BP has endured overshadowed the two leaders' discussions on Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iran and the global economy.
Cameron expressed his understanding with the 'anger' in the United States and agreed that BP was responsible for the 'mess' in the Gulf and should pay accordingly. But he pointed out that BP provides jobs at a time of economic uncertainty.
'BP is an important company to both the British and the American 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 ... that it remains a strong and stable company for the future.'
He defended BP over allegations involving Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, saying the 'bad decision' to release the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, was made by Scottish authorities - not BP.
Al-Megrahi was released to his native Libya in August 2009 on humanitarian grounds, after it was determined he was terminally ill with cancer and had three months to live. He is still living in Libya after nearly a year.
Most of the 270 bombing victims were US citizens.
The early release prompted outrage in the United States. The issue resurfaced in recent weeks with reports that BP might have tried to influence the decision, in hopes of gaining access to Libyan oil fields. Cameron said he shared the Obama' administration's sentiment over the decision to free the 'mass murderer' al-Megrahi.
The victims 'were not allowed to die in their beds at home, surrounded by their families. So, in my view, neither should that callous killer have been given that luxury,' he said. Cameron added: 'That wasn't a decision taken by BP - it was a decision taken by the Scottish government.'
BP has said it was lobbying the government in support of a separate prisoner transfer agreement between the Britain and Libya, but was not involved in al-Megrahi's case. That answer has not satisfied enraged US lawmakers.
Several US senators, with whom Cameron was to meet, have called for an inquiry into the reasoning behind the early release. The Senate plans to conduct hearings this month on the issue.
Cameron rejected a new inquiry, saying that a probe has already been conducted by the Scottish Parliament. Instead, Cameron said he will order his government to review the relevant documents to determine if there is additional information that can be made public.
'I don't need an inquiry to tell me it was a bad decision,' he said.
Obama repeatedly expressed his opposition to releasing al-Megrahi but stopped short of insisting on a new inquiry. 'We welcome any additional information that will give us insight and a better understanding of why the decision was made,' he said.
The president and other US officials have said they will continue to voice opposition over the release. But the State Department acknowledged that, even though there are 'legitimate questions' over the release, al-Megrahi is in Libya and won't likely be back behind bars.
'If we had a preference, he'd be back in prison,' spokesman PJ Crowley said. 'I'm not sure how realistic a reversal of the Scottish authorities' decision of a year ago is at this point.'