Heading to White House, Cameron says US-Britain ties strong

20th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday ties with the United States are solid ahead of White House talks clouded by the BP oil spill and the release of a convicted Lockerbie bomber.

The White House summit between President Barack Obama and Cameron will also focus on the war in Afghanistan but is set to be dominateed by mounting anger over the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama's repeated reference to BP by its old name of British Petroleum and a vow from the White House to "keep the boot on its throat" prompted accusations by senior members of Cameron's Conservative party that Obama was anti-British.

But in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Cameron insisted the alliance was not in peril.

"The US-UK relationship is simple: It's strong because it delivers for both of us," Cameron wrote.

"The alliance is not sustained by our historical ties or blind loyalty. This is a partnership of choice that serves our national interests."

Cameron said the two leaders "have a very clear common agenda: succeeding in Afghanistan, securing economic growth and stability at home and across the world, fighting protectionism."

The two leaders hold talks at the White House followed by a lunch where they will be joined by Vice President Joe Biden.

Obama and Cameron will hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, offering a glimpse into the character of two young leaders who are a study in political contrasts and stylistic similarities.

Politically, Obama and Cameron could hardly be more different. The Briton campaigned against big government, while the American led the deepest government intervention in the economy in decades.

But both are pragmatic, largely non-ideological, and see themselves as the embodiment of change. Cameron is the youngest British prime minister in nearly 200 years, while Obama inspired youthful legions of voters en route to power.

The pair met at the G20 summit last month in Canada and shared a ride in the president's Marine One helicopter. They have spoken frequently on the telephone since Cameron took power in May.

Ahead of the summit, the White House insisted that BP -- also a sensitive issue for Cameron, as the firm's stock is the backbone of many British pension funds -- would not overshadow the talks.

"I don't think it will hamper any of our discussions," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"The president is certainly looking for BP to live up to its monetary obligations to pay the damages and the fines that it will be assessed as a result of this disaster" which has devastated communities along the Gulf coast.

"And I think that's what the prime minister has said as well."

Cameron, while urging BP to live up to its responsibilities, has also said the energy giant must be kept solvent, with its costs expected to hit billions of dollars.

"Of course we will discuss BP," Cameron told Time magazine.

"It is an important company not just for Britain, it's an important company for America as well. It employs tens of thousands of people in the US, as it does in the UK."

BP has also been drawn deeper into an escalating row over the Scottish government's release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi last year.

Several US lawmakers have demanded answers over a British report -- denied by BP -- that the oil giant lobbied for the release of Megrahi to safeguard a 2007 oil exploration deal with Libya.

On Tuesday, Cameron's spokesman said the prime minister had changed plans and now would meet during his visit to Washington with four US senators angry over the Lockerbie bomber's release.

The British embassy in the US capital had originally said Cameron would not have time to meet the lawmakers as he had a full schedule, and would instead ask British Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald to see them.

But his spokesman later said the prime minister had changed his plans and would invite the senators for a discussion later Tuesday at the British ambassador's residence.

"The prime minister recognizes the strength of feeling and knows how important it is to reassure the families of the victims," said the spokesman.

Obama and Cameron will also discuss the war in Afghanistan, with their respective publics tiring of a grueling nine-year war exacting an increasingly bloody toll.

Obama wants to begin withdrawing US troops by July next year, while Cameron has said he wants British combat troops home within five years.

© 2010 AFP

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