WASHINGTON (AP) - On the way to Washington, British Prime
Minister David Cameron said he wants to talk about Afghanistan,
Middle East peace prospects and the global economy.
Everyone else wants to talk about BP.
Cameron's first trip to Washington as prime minister begins
Tuesday and is being overshadowed by anger in the United States
over BP's spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the British oil giant's
alleged involvement in the decision to free Lockerbie bomber Abdel
Baset al-Megrahi from jail last year and send him home to Libya.
Cameron had hoped to use his first official visit to the White
House to build his standing as a statesman and develop his
relationship with President Barack Obama. Instead, he is being
forced to focus on the British government's decision last August to
return the cancer-stricken prisoner to Libya on compassionate
"As leader of opposition, I couldn't have been more clear that
I thought the decision to release al-Megrahi was completely and
utterly wrong," Cameron told the BBC.
In Tuesday's meeting, Cameron and Obama will discuss a host of
pressing issues. Chief among them will be Afghanistan. Britain has
been the most crucial U.S. military partner in Afghanistan but is
facing inevitable budget cuts and the unpopularity of the war.
Cameron has said he wants the country's 10,000 troops out by the
time of Britain's next election, which must be held by 2015.
The leaders also are likely to discuss stalled Middle East peace
prospects and the global economy. But while both sides are playing
down the BP issue, they are acknowledging it is likely to come up.
Cameron also is expected to come under questioning on that topic in
meetings with congressional leaders.
Cameron will meet Tuesday evening with U.S. lawmakers who have
urged an inquiry into BP's lobbying of the British government over
al-Megrahi's release. Cameron's Downing Street office said a
British government-commissioned inquiry was "not currently under
The decision to free al-Megrahi was made by Scotland's
government, which holds limited powers within the United Kingdom,
and not by the previous British government headed by Prime Minister
Al-Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence for the Dec.
21, 1988, bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland,
which killed all 259 people aboard, mostly Americans, and 11 people
on the ground.
"I have no idea what BP did, I am not responsible for BP,"
Cameron said. But he insisted that discussions between BP and
Brown's administration on a prisoner transfer agreement did not
include talks involving the al-Megrahi question.
New York Democrat Charles Schumer, one of four senators who have
demanded an investigation, welcomed Cameron's statement on the
"This admission is a first step in getting to the bottom of
what could well be a quid pro quo for an oil contract," Schumer
BP has acknowledged that it had urged the British government to
sign a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, but stressed it did
not specifically discuss al-Megrahi's case during those talks.
Britain's growing diplomatic and business ties with Libya have
been under intense scrutiny since al-Megrahi's release. Critics
have accused British authorities of putting commercial interests
before the families of the 270 victims of the attack.
British officials have insisted the prisoner transfer deal was
part of a broader diplomatic effort aimed at furthering efforts to
transform Libya from rogue state to Western ally. Libyan leader
Moammar Gadhafi renounced terrorism and dismantled his country's
clandestine nuclear program in 2003.
The U.S. lawmakers asked the State Department last week to
investigate whether BP pressured officials as part of efforts to
seek access to Libyan oil fields.
In a letter sent Saturday to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton and Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said
there was nothing to suggest BP had influenced the Scottish
"There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the
allegations of BP involvement in the Scottish executive's decision
to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009, nor any
suggestion that the Scottish executive decided to release
al-Megrahi in order to facilitate oil deals for BP," Hague wrote.