As Cameron and Obama Meet, BP Will Be Top Issue


LONDON — On the eve of a White House meeting with President Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday stepped into the furor over BP’s lobbying for a prisoner-transfer agreement between Britain and Libya by saying he considered the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber from a Scottish prison last year to be “completely and utterly wrong.”

Ten weeks after taking office, Mr. Cameron is making his first visit to the United States as prime minister. He and Mr. Obama have a ledger of issues to discuss, including the Cameron government’s decision to set an end date of 2015 for Britain’s combat role in Afghanistan; a radical British deficit-reduction plan that critics have said risks pushing the country toward a double-dip recession; and the controversy that has built around BP, Britain’s largest company, since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Mr. Cameron’s two-day visit will include meetings in New York with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Wall Street executives. But issues involving BP are likely to provide its focal point, and the prime minister and his aides used a series of statements in the days before leaving London to stake out a position intended to limit the damage to BP — and to Britain — from the oil company’s troubles, as well as to improve the political climate for the visit.

The latest furor to involve BP has sprung from the decision by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold hearings on July 29 on the circumstances surrounding the release last August of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent who had served eight years of a life sentence for his role in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Mr. Megrahi was the only person convicted in the bombing, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.

Lawmakers who pushed for the Washington hearing — including the senators from New York, New Jersey and California, home states to bombing victims — have demanded that BP explain its role in lobbying for the prisoner-transfer agreement Britain and Libya concluded in December 2007. The senators have said they want to explore possible links between Mr. Megrahi’s release and BP’s eagerness to win Libyan ratification of an offshore oil deal that company officials have said could be worth $20 billion.

In a BBC television interview on Monday, Mr. Cameron said he had strongly opposed the bomber’s release at the time. “As leader of the opposition I couldn’t have been more clear that I thought the decision to release al-Megrahi was completely and utterly wrong,” he said.

As for BP’s role, he added, “I have no idea what BP did; I am not responsible for BP.”

Also on Monday, the Obama administration asked the governments of Scotland and Britain to review the decision to release Mr. Megrahi. In letters to American lawmakers, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the administration was encouraging the Scottish and British authorities to review the circumstances leading to the release.

The oil company has insisted that its lobbying was limited to the transfer agreement, and did not include pressure for Mr. Megrahi’s release. Mr. Cameron’s aides supported this on Monday, saying that discussions between BP and the government of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown did not include specific talks about Mr. Megrahi.

But Libyan officials, including a son of the Libyan president, have said Libya made clear to Britain that if Mr. Megrahi were not included in the transfer agreement, lucrative oil deals for British companies would not be approved.

The issue was resolved when the Scottish government released Mr. Megrahi on compassionate grounds, after doctors in Scotland provided affidavits saying he was likely to die of advanced prostate cancer within three months.

Nearly a year later, he remains alive in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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