Published: Jul 20, 2010 11:13 AM EDT
Updated: Jul 20, 2010 8:17 AM EDT

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

Gordon Brown.

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.