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Double, double, oil, and trouble...

The two leaders agree on so much – commitment to the war effort in Afghanistan; BP needs to pay for the oil cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico and that it was wrong to release the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi.

Last modified: 20 Jul 2010 18:43

A special meeting of the Special Relationship.

David Cameron has been on his first visit to Washington as British prime minister to meet Barack Obama, the US president. 

He's hitting all the big day-trips spots, but his schedule must be tight - there are no plans to take in some sun in the Gulf of Mexico.

The two leaders agree on so much - commitment to the war effort in Afghanistan; BP needs to pay for the oil cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico and that it was wrong to release the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi.

But in a Special Relationship, you have to find ways to get through your disagreements as well as tout your synergy. 

For example, Washington doesn't like Britain's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2015. They disagree on whether to spend or slash on the road to economic recovery and BP is a barrel of mess - Louisiana fishermen vs BP pensioners and US expectations vs the future of a major British company.

As if the friends needed something else to overshadow their visit. They’ll be discussing allegations that BP pressed for the release of al-Megrahi.

In 1988, Pan-Am flight 103 was brought down by a bomb killing all 259 people onboard. Megrahi was the only person ever convicted in that case.

 

Cameron pounced on the controversy in a National Public Radio interview on Tuesday morning.

"Let’s be clear about who released al-Megrahi. It was a government decision in the UK. It was a wrong decision; it wasn't the decision of BP, it was the decision of Scottish ministers."

But the sore point keeps getting worse.

A US senate committee will hold a hearing next week on BP’s alleged role in the Megrahi case and a number of senators wrote to Cameron last week calling for an inquiry into BP’s alleged involvement, a call echoed by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state.

The senators will be meeting the British PM on Monday evening at the ambassador’s residence. Who is he going to defend at that meeting - the British government or BP?

 

Obama has to walk a fine line here too. For the domestic audience, he needs to come down hard on BP. Congressional elections are less than four months away, and Obama has to deliver to voters on some big issues if he’s to keep his majority in both the House and the senate. 

And Americans want to see BP pay. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 51 per cent of Americans want the US government to pursue criminal charges against BP for the environmental calamity in the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama is certainly aware of the public anger and has even vented some of his own at the oil giant. So the friendly meeting could get off to an unfriendly start.    

 

Watch my Twitter account for more updates on the Obama/Cameron meeting during their press conference at 18GMT or 2pm here in Washington. You can also watch the full presser live on Al Jazeera English TV.