Tuesday, July 20, 2010

DTN News: US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron Navigate Lockerbie, BP Rows

Defense News: DTN News: US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron Navigate Lockerbie, BP Rows
Source: DTN News / AFP
(NSI News Source Info) WSAHINGTON, U.S. - July 21, 2010: British Prime Minister David Cameron Tuesday rejected an inquiry into Scotland's release of the Lockerbie bomber, and said BP did not sway the decision, as he met US President Barack Obama.
Cameron however told his top civil servants to assess whether new information needed to be made public on the release last year of terminally ill Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi.
"I don't need an inquiry to tell me what was a bad decision," Cameron said, but also rejected suggestions that a lobbying effort by energy giant BP helped win the release of Megrahi, who remains alive nearly a year after he was freed.
"That wasn't a decision taken by BP -- it was a decision taken by the Scottish government."
Obama and his visitor carefully picked through raw political sensitivities surrounding the release of Megrahi, and over British-based BP's pariah status in the United States following the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
And both leaders insisted that war strategy in Afghanistan was correct, and said plans to hand over the country largely to Afghan forces by 2014, endorsed by an international Kabul conference on Tuesday, were realistic.
In their first White House meeting, they also both pledged fealty to the US-British "special relationship" as Obama attempted to stamp out suggestions he did not value the long alliance in the same way as his predecessors.
The two men held three hours of talks in the Oval Office, shared a lunch of Wild Striped Bass, and the president gave his guest a tour of the White House living quarters -- Cameron remarked on the Obama daughters' tidy bedrooms.
Cameron forcibly condemned the decision by Scotland's devolved government to free Megrahi, who was the only person convicted in the bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie in 1988 that killed 270 people, mostly Americans.
"I said this a year ago... it was a bad decision, it shouldn't have been made," said Cameron who was in opposition last year, and had no control over the decision.
"He showed his victims no compassion. They 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."
In return, Obama stopped short of calling for an official British government inquiry into the affair, stating his own personal anger at the Megrahi release, but expressing confidence Cameron could handle the fallout.
"We've got a British prime minister who shares our anger over the decision," Obama said.
In a last-minute U-turn, Downing Street announced Cameron would see four US senators furious about the Scottish government's release of Megrahi, who are demanding action by the London government.
The seized on reports -- denied by BP and the British government -- that the firm pushed for Megrahi's release to safeguard a lucrative oil exploration deal with Libya.
The British leader, carefully noting US anger over BP's role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, said he fully agreed with Obama that BP needed to seal the ruptured well, clean up the spill and compensate victims.
But with an eye on the British-based firm's role as a provider of thousands of jobs in the US and British economies, Cameron warned that bankrupting BP would be counterproductive.
"It's in the interest of both our countries, as we agreed, that it remains a strong and stable company for the future."
Obama and Cameron also paid mutual tribute to US and British soldiers killed in the Afghan war, and insisted their plan was working.
"We have the right strategy. We're going to break the Taliban's momentum. We're going to build Afghan capacity, so Afghans can take responsibility for their future," Obama said.
Both the US and British governments, under rising political pressure over an increasingly unpopular war, have insisted that plans to withdraw Western combat troops from Afghanistan are realistic.
Obama, who mandated a surge of US forces last year, has said he wants to start bringing home at least some troops in July 2011. Cameron wants British combat troops home within five years.
But critics have expressed doubts that the newly trained Afghan army will be in any shape to keep the peace by 2014.
"I think it is realistic," Cameron insisted on NPR Tuesday. "Remember, 2014 is four years away, so there's quite a lot of time to train up that Afghan army, and that, to me, is the most important thing.

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