British Prime Minister David Cameron urged the American people Tuesday not to assume that oil giant BP persuaded the Scottish government to release the Lockerbie bomber from prison a year ago, saying the company deserves blame for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico but that there is no evidence of wrongdoing in an attempt to gain access to oil fields off Libya’s coast.
“Let us not confuse the oil spill with the Libyan bomber,” Cameron said during a press conference at the White House with President Obama, following two hours of meetings with the president and his advisers.
“I haven’t seen anything to suggest that in anyway the Scottish government was swayed by BP,” Cameron said. “BP should rightly be blamed for what has happened in the Gulf … It’s important to separate that from the decision to release [Libyan bomber] Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.”
U.S. lawmakers such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, have called for investigations into whether BP has gained “blood money” through its acquisition, for $900 million, of drilling rights in Libyan waters that are expected to bring them billions of dollars.
Cameron and Obama fended off numerous questions on the topic Tuesday, as outrage has grown over the release of al-Megrahi, whose bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988 killed all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground, 179 of them Americans. Obama avoided the toughest of the questions and was able to stick to talking points that the decision to release al-Megrahi was wrongheaded.
Cameron, the more engaging and winsome of the two leaders on a day when Obama appeared lethargic and wooden, was forced to say that he does not think the British government should launch an inquiry when the Scottish government has already done so.
“I don’t need an inquiry to tell me it was a bad decision,” Cameron said, though he did announce that he has asked his cabinet secretary to examine whether more government records about the release decision should be made available.
Cameron said that former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown “should have been clear that it was a bad decision rather than going along with it,” but said that he believes the Scots released al-Megrahi, who has cancer, on “compassionate grounds.”
“I don’t think it was right to show compassion to a mass murderer like that. I think it was wrong,” Cameron said.
Even as he spoke of understanding and sharing the anger that many Americans feel about the Gulf oil spill, Cameron also tried to stick up for BP’s ultimate survival and prosperity, on the grounds that American and British jobs were at risk if the company goes under.
“BP is an important company to both the British and the American economies. Thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic depend on them. So it’s in the interest of both our countries, as we agreed, that it remains a strong and stable company,” Cameron said.
For his part, Obama was questioned as to why Cameron has been able to implement spending cuts and other austerity measures after having been in office a little over two months, while he has only set up a fiscal commission with no binding authority to study what to do about America’s growing deficit and debt.
“Our two countries are in slightly different situations,” Obama said, adding that Britain’s debt is higher as a percentage of its economy than is the U.S. debt. He also mentioned his proposal to cut the deficit in half by 2013.