Obama summons BP chairman as fears grow of leak backlash

11th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

US President Barack Obama has summoned BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg to a meeting over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, as US anger grows at the pollution the deadly accident was causing.

The call came as British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would soon be discussing BP's handling of the leak with Obama -- and as some senior British figures expressed concern about the tone of the US rhetoric.

Svanberg and other company officials were invited to a meeting set for Wednesday.

"The BP Deepwater Horizon spill is the largest environmental disaster in our nation's history," said the letter to Svanberg from Thad Allen, a Coast Guard admiral who is leading the US government's response to the crisis.

"The potential devastation to the Gulf Coast, its economy, and its people require relentless efforts to stop the leak and contain the damage..." it said.

"Our administration is not going to rest or be satisfied until the leak is stopped at the source, the oil in the Gulf is contained and cleaned up, and the people of the Gulf are able to go back to their lives and their livelihoods."

The White House did not ask to see British oil giant BP's chief executive Tony Hayward, who Obama has denounced for comments he made regarding the disaster.

Cameron was expected to talk to Obama on Saturday or Sunday as BP and Hayward face mounting pressure over the firm's response to the disaster.

Politicians and business leaders in London have expressed fears that "anti-British rhetoric" was taking hold in the United States, and that other British businesses could even be hit as a result.

But the State Department said the disaster was not "a source of tension" between the two countries and would not affect ties.

"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," spokesman Philip Crowley said.

Speaking in Kabul, Cameron said earlier that he understood the US government's "frustration" over the spill "because it is a catastrophe for the environment."

He added: "Obviously everyone wants everything to be done that can be done."

His comments came as several leading business figures and politicians spoke out to air their concerns about BP's treatment in the United States.

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

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

BP's share price plunged by almost 16 percent in London trading early Thursday. They closed down nearly seven percent.

Its shares have lost more than 40 percent of their value since the April 20 explosion aboard a drilling rig operated by BP which killed 11 workers and blew open the well.

Some investors fear that the intense political pressure from Washington could force the group to axe its prized shareholder dividend.

In an outspoken open letter to Obama, the chairman of British insurance group RSA, John Napier, said his comments against BP and Hayward looked "prejudicial and personal".

"There is a sense here that these attacks are being made because BP is British," he added. RSA stressed Napier was speaking in a personal capacity.

And Miles Templeman, director-general of the Institute of Directors, which represents senior British business leaders, said he was "very concerned" by the comments against BP.

"There is a danger that this will become a British business thing and there will be a prejudice against British companies because of it," he told the Financial Times newspaper.

But Foreign Secretary William Hague, who last month said Washington was "without doubt" London's most important ally, played down concerns of anti-British feeling in the United States.

"No-one has used an anti-British tone in anything I have detected," he told BBC radio.

© 2010 AFP

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