Lockerbie Bomber’s Release Dominates Cameron Visit With Obama

BY Sarah Sullivan  July 20, 2010 at 6:49 PM EST

British leader David Cameron, who made his first visit as prime minister to Washington this week, used his time at the White House to discuss Afghanistan, the economy and prospects for Middle East peace. But at a news conference with President Obama on Tuesday, reporters from the United States and U.K. pressed both men on the controversy surrounding the release of convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.

When asked if he thought the U.K. should conduct an inquiry into the allegations that BP lobbied for the release of al-Megrahi in order to help it with an oil drilling deal with Libya, Cameron said: “I don’t think there’s any great mystery here. … I don’t need an inquiry to tell me it was a bad decision. It was a bad decision.”

Watch more of Cameron’s and President Obama’s comments on the matter in this excerpt of their joint news conference:

Though the two-day visit to the United States was overshadowed by a flurry of speculation surrounding BP involvement in the release of the Libyan national, both leaders reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-U.K. alliance and directed attention to the economy, Afghanistan, Iran and prospects for Arab-Israeli peace.

Both Mr. Obama and Cameron spoke of the “special relationship” — a phrase that has become seasoned rhetoric since Winston Churchill’s “Sinews of Peace” speech in 1946. President Obama said that “the United States has no closer ally and no stronger partner than Great Britain.” He added, “I appreciate the opportunity to renew our relationship with my partner, Prime Minister Cameron.” Cameron echoed the sentiment, describing the relationship as “essential.”

The turmoil over the release of the Lockerbie bomber was sparked by the recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee announcement that it would investigate his release at a July 29 hearing.

In a BBC television interview on Monday, Cameron said, “As leader of the opposition I couldn’t have been more clear that I thought the decision to release al-Megrahi was completely and utterly wrong.” And, soon after arriving at the White House, he again denounced the act saying, “It was a government decision in the U.K. It was the wrong decision. It wasn’t the decision of BP. It was the decision of Scottish ministers.”

Of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Cameron said, “I understand the anger that exists across America. It is a catastrophe. But I have also been clear that it is BP’s role to clear up the mess and cap the leak.” He added, “It is in the interest of both our countries that it becomes a strong and stable company.”

The two leaders also discussed the war in Afghanistan at their joint press conference. Cameron has set a date of 2015 to end Britain’s combat role there.

President Obama cited the Afghan aid conference held in Kabul on Tuesday, in which “the Afghan government presented, and its international partners unanimously endorsed, concrete plans to implement President Karzai’s commitments to improve security, economic growth, governance and the delivery of basic services.”

Cameron also stressed this accomplishment and mentioned the “first Afghan-led military operation took place successfully in Helmand, Afghans defending themselves.”

Great Britain has seen the deaths of its troops nearly double in recent months, according to figures released Monday by the Medical Research Council Biostatistics Unit at Cambridge. “In the last 10 weeks, 32 British troops have been killed, or 17 per 1,000 personnel years, according to the figures. The U.S. figure was just 6.8.,” the Guardian reported.

Cameron and President Obama appeared to be in full agreement on the steps to be taken with regard to Iranian sanctions, and the prime minister pledged to work toward “ensuring strong European Union sanctions in the coming days.”

“We remain committed to a diplomatic solution,” said Mr. Obama. “But the Iranian government must understand that the path of defiance will only bring more pressure and more isolation.”

The two leaders also agreed that efforts toward Arab-Israeli peace must take the form of reinstated direct peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis. Mr. Obama said, “Both our governments are working to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to move to direct talks as soon as possible.”

The prime minister expressed more urgency on the issue saying, “We desperately need a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians that provides security, justice and hope.”