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Obama, Cameron Reaffirm Partnership Under Shadow Of BP

U.S. President Barack Obama (right) speaks with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House on July 20.
U.S. President Barack Obama hosted British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House today to reaffirm their countries' partnership on Afghanistan, Iran sanctions, the Middle East peace process, and responses to the global financial recession.

Addressing reporters after their meeting, Obama said that his relationship with Cameron, who was on his first official visit to the White House since being named Britain’s prime minister in May, was off to “a brilliant start.”

In a sign of comfort between the two leaders, “Barack” and “David” were on more than one occasion substituted for official titles.

Their cooperation, Obama said, was grounded in their countries long history of shared values.

"Mr. Prime Minister, we can never say it enough: The United States and the United Kingdom enjoy a truly special relationship," Obama said to Cameron. "[We] celebrate a common heritage, we cherish common values, and we speak a common language -- most of the time."

The leaders paid tribute to U.S. and British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and insisted their plan to withdraw Western combat troops from Afghanistan are realistic, despite lingering doubts over Kabul’s readiness to meet its own security needs and stamp out insurgents.

Earlier in the day, an international conference in Kabul endorsed plans to hand over the country largely to Afghan forces by 2014.

"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,” said Obama.

Cameron said joint efforts in Afghanistan illustrated U.S.-British cooperation at its best.

"On Afghanistan, there is no clearer, no more tangible illustration of Britain and America standing shoulder-to-shoulder, in our national interests, than this mission that we engaged in together," he said. "We have British troops working to an American commander in Helmand and we have American troops working to a British commander in Kandahar."

Both leaders renewed their call for Iran to abandon its controversial nuclear program, which the West insists is aimed at building a nuclear bomb, and reaffirmed their support for sanctions against Tehran.

Obama and Cameron also called for the resumption of direct peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians and underlined their commitment to financial reform -- even as Cameron, a conservative, has advocated austerity measures for his country, while Obama has pushed for greater stimulus spending.

The Shadow Of BP

However, while the leaders presented a united front, the Gulf Coast oil spill, as well as accusations of BP’s involvement in the release of the notorious "Lockerbie bomber," threatened to overshadow their message of unity.

Analysts had predicted that during his visit to the U.S. capital, Cameron would try to defend BP, one of Great Britain’s major companies, whose stocks have plummeted amid the nearly three-month-long oil spill crisis off the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The British leader, acknowledging U.S. anger over the spill, said he fully agreed with Obama that BP was responsible for sealing the ruptured well, cleaning up the spill, and compensating victims.
Oil has gushed into the Gulf of Mexico since BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20.

But Cameron also noted BP’s role as a provider of thousands of jobs in both the United States and Britain, and said that bankrupting the company would be counterproductive.

"So it's in the interest of both our countries… that it remains a strong and stable company for the future," he said.

The shadow of BP also hung over Cameron’s visit in relation to reports that in order to safeguard a lucrative oil exploration deal with Libya, the company pushed for the release of the "Lockerbie bomber," a Libyan terrorist convicted in the bombing of a plane over Scotland.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi had served eight years of a life sentence for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, mostly Americans. He was freed last year by a Scottish court because he was terminally ill and authorities believed he had only three months to live. He is still alive in Libya.

BP has confirmed it lobbied the British government in 2007 over a prisoner transfer deal with Libya for fear its commercial interests in the country were being damaged. But the company said it was not involved in talks on the release of Megrahi.

Cameron supported those claims.

"The role of BP and any lobbying they might have done is an issue for BP and an issue that they should explain themselves. The decision to release Megrahi though, was a decision made by the Scottish government, and I haven't seen anything to suggest that the Scottish government was in any way swayed by BP," he said. "They were swayed by their considerations about the need to release him on compassionate grounds -- grounds that I think were completely wrong."

Cameron, who, as an opposition leader, opposed the release of Megrahi, said he would not order a probe into the reasoning behind the decision.

"I don't need an inquiry to tell me what was a bad decision," he said.

Cameron did pledge to ask his top civil servants to review whether more information about the release needs to be published.

In return, Obama did not call for an official government inquiry into the affair, and expressed confidence in the British prime minister's pledge.

Cameron was later scheduled to meet with U.S. senators from New York and New Jersey, who had published a letter on July 19 calling for the United Kingdom to launch a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding Megrahi's release.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also called for more investigation into the Scottish court’s decision.

compiled from agency reports