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Obama, British PM: Bomber release not BP's doing

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron strongly condemn the release last year of the Lockerbie bomber by Scotland.
Image: US President Barack Obama meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron in
President Barack Obama meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, July 20.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: news services

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday turned aside some U.S. lawmakers' calls for an investigation into the release of the Lockerbie bomber by Scotland and said there was no indication that oil giant BP had swayed the controversial decision.

Both Cameron and President Barack Obama, who met with him at the White House, condemned the release of the Libyan bomber.

Still, Cameron said the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison was not the doing of the British government nor, apparently, the result of any lobbying by BP to win oil concessions from Libya. Rather it was a decision by the government of Scotland on compassionate grounds, he said.

"It was the biggest mass murder in British history, and there was no business letting him out of prison," Cameron said.

Obama said he was confident the British government would cooperate to make sure all facts are known about the release.

"We welcome any additional information that will give us insights and better understanding of why the decision was made," Obama said.

"The bottom line is we all disagreed with it. It was a bad decision."

Cameron said at a joint White House news conference with Obama that any role that BP may have played in the Lockerbie release "is a matter for BP to answer." But he went on to say there was no evidence that Scotland's decision was swayed by BP.

Cameron said he and Obama were in "violent agreement" that the release was a mistake.

However, they did disagree slightly over the issue of an investigation. Several U.S. senators have proposed an investigation, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called on both British and Scottish officials to review the situation.

Obama said he welcomed such a probe and that it was important that all facts be released to the public. Cameron said he, too, agreed that all the facts should released. But, he added, "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."

Cameron also said he understood American anger over the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

He said the spill that began April 20 with an explosion aboard a BP-leased oil rig that claimed 11 lives was "a catastrophe" for the environment, the fishing industry and for tourism in the region.

Cameron said he agreed with Obama that "it is BP's role to cap the leak, clean up the mess and pay the appropriate compensation." He said that the recent temporary capping of the well by BP was "a step in the right direction."

At the same time, Cameron said that BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, "is an important company to both" the United States and Britain, noting it was a company that employs thousands of workers on both sides of the Atlantic.

It was Cameron's first trip to Washington as prime minister. In their meeting, Cameron and Obama discussed several other hot-button issues including the BP oil spill, the Afghanistan war, Iran's nuclear ambititions and the prospects for Middle East peace.

Cameron was to meet Tuesday evening with U.S. lawmakers who have urged an inquiry into BP's lobbying of the British government over al-Megrahi's release.

The decision to free al-Megrahi was made by Scotland's government, which holds limited powers within the United Kingdom, and not by the previous British government headed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Al-Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence for the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed all 259 people aboard, mostly Americans, and 11 people on the ground.

BP has said it lobbied the British government in late 2007 over a Prisoner Transfer Agreement between Britain and Libya that could allow prisoners of either nation held by the other to be sent home to serve out their sentences.

BP said it told the British government it was "concerned about the slow progress" in negotiating the agreement. It also has said it knew this could hurt an offshore oil drilling deal that required approval by the Libyan government.

However, BP said it was not involved in discussions regarding the Scottish executive's decision to release Megrahi in August 2009 on compassionate grounds because of his ill health.

Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said he stood by his decision to allow al-Megrahi's release, saying it conformed both to law and to Scottish values.