British Prime Minister David Cameron is in Washington for his first official visit to the United States even as BP’s oil spill, the war in Afghanistan and different approaches to economic recovery put the “special relationship” under strain.
Stricken oil giant BP, the ongoing war in Afghanistan and different approaches to tackling the economic downturn are expected to top the agenda as British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived for talks with US President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday.
It is Cameron’s first official visit to the US since he took office in May at the head of a Conservative-Liberal coalition.
In public, Cameron and Obama have already been seen to “cosy up” to each other, swapping bottles of beer and making bets on the World Cup when they met at the G20 summit in Toronto last month.
But the “special relationship” between the UK and the US looks strained.
BP, the oil spill and the Lockerbie link
First, there is BP and its months-long struggle to tame an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – the environmental disaster that has not enamoured many Americans to the British oil giant.
BP’s woes got worse last week after it emerged the company had lobbied the British government in 2007 to secure the early release from a Scottish prison of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a US jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
Al-Megrahi was allowed home -- to a hero’s welcome -- on compassionate grounds 11 months ago after the cancer sufferer had been given just three months to live.
But he is still very much alive, and his release has sparked outrage in the United States, where most of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing were from.
London has insisted there was no evidence linking Megrahi's release to a lucrative BP oil deal with Libya.
"I have no idea of what BP did. I'm not responsible for BP," Cameron told the BBC on Monday. "All I know is, as leader of the opposition, I couldn't have been more clear. I thought the release of al-Megrahi was completely and utterly wrong.”
Whatever the rights and wrongs of BP’s activities, Cameron is nevertheless firm that BP should not face “destruction”, telling Time Magazine that BP should remain a “strong and stable company" for the sake of its thousands of employees on both sides of the Atlantic.
A second issue on the agenda will be what defined the “special relationship” between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George W. Bush – foreign policy and the “War on Terror”.
Both Cameron and Obama inherited the Afghan War from their predecessors, and both seem keen to wrap it up as quickly as possible without putting their own nations’ security at risk.
Obama wants to start pulling US personnel out from July next year, while Cameron says British combat forces should be coming home within five years.
But it remains to be seen if the age of British acquiescence to American military adventurism is at an end.
Cameron told Time that the UK “needs a realism about who we are, what we can achieve and what we need to do,” by which he meant “less grand diplomatic talk” and more “gritty, commercial businesslike realism” in British foreign policy.
Avoiding the double dip
Business, of course, will take up much of the talks, with the US government feeling increasingly lonely in its efforts to revive the global economy.
Obama has warned European governments to beware of imposing overly punitive austerity measures, fearful that overreaching attempts to reduce budget deficits could imperil the recovery, bought at enormous cost through stimulus packages.
Cameron’s government, meanwhile, has just announced eye-watering cuts in public services, a move many in Washington fear will dampen consumer demand and raise the risk of a double-dip recession.
With Britain apparently following the rest of Europe down the path to austerity, Obama may yet regret the big-spending, fiscal-stimulus policies of Cameron’s predecessor, Gordon Brown.
Date created : 2010-07-19