Oil disaster not 'a source of tension' with Britain: US

10th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

The United States on Thursday dismissed the notion that the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster involving British energy giant BP had become a source of tension between London and Washington.

Antipathy in Washington towards the British-registered global company is causing disquiet among business leaders and politicians in London, as the price of BP's shares -- a staple of many pension funds -- plunges.

"I don't see it as a source of tension," US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told journalists.

"BP is a private company and this is about the impact of the tragedy... not about the relations between the United States and its closest ally," said Crowley.

"The British people understand the frustration and anger the American people are seeing in this. It is not going to affect our relationship," Crowley said.

At the White House, President Barack Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said he saw "no reason" why relations with Britain should be damaged by fierce US criticisms of BP.

"I see no reason that it would."

Gibbs also denied that the administration's rhetoric had been overly fiery on BP, a few days after Obama said he would fire BP CEO Tony Hayward over comments seen in the United States as overly flippant.

"Our focus has been on what's right -- fulfilling responsibility. It has not been on gratuitous language," Gibbs said.

But just minutes after a meeting with Obama and other congressional leaders, at the White House, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives issued a firm condemnation of "the negligence of British Petroleum."

"It is clear that there was a lack of integrity on the part of BP when it came to what it told us about the adequacy of their technology, the sufficiency of blow-out prevention and the capacity to clean up," Pelosi said.

Pelosi also said that BP should ensure it had lived up to its responsibilities to compensate businesses badly hit by the disaster, before doling out dividend payments to shareholders.

"They should be paying small businesses first," she said. "BP must be held accountable."

BP, as the operator of the doomed rig, bears legal responsibility to pay for the disaster clean-up operation -- and for certain compensation costs for local businesses that have seen livelihoods badly hit.

New British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier said that he will discuss BP's handling of the disaster with Obama when the two leaders are expected to hold a telephone conversation at the weekend.

Gibbs said that the call had been previously scheduled to discuss a "whole range of issues," including Afghanistan, next steps on Iran and the global economy, and even the England v United States World Cup clash on Saturday.

Cameron said in Afghanistan earlier that he understood the US government's frustration with BP "because it is a catastrophe for the environment."

"Obviously everyone wants everything to be done that can be done. Of course that is something I will be discussing with the American president," said Cameron, who is expected to meet Obama in Washington next month.

London mayor Boris Johnson summed up concern in Britain over BP telling BBC radio: "I do think there's something slightly worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating from America."

Johnson, of Cameron's Conservative party, added: "I would like to see a bit of cool heads rather than endlessly buck-passing and name-calling.

"When you consider the huge exposure of British pension funds to BP, it starts to become a matter of national concern if a great British company is being continually beaten up on the airwaves."

© 2010 AFP

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