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RPT-Q+A-Will BP spill taint Cameron's U.S. visit?

WASHINGTON, July 20 (Reuters) - David Cameron is making his first trip to the United States as British prime minister on Tuesday and Wednesday, a visit expected to be overshadowed by the BP Plc BP.LBP.N oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Cameron will meet President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. congressional leaders then travel to New York for talks with business leaders and at the United Nations.

Here are some questions and answers about the visit.


The two leaders will address a range of issues that will definitely include the oil spill, aides say.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said they would discuss issues including Afghanistan, the global economy and the Middle East, with Afghanistan “first and foremost” on the list.

The two men have discussed the spill during two of their three telephone conversations to date and it came up during their first face-to-face meeting since Cameron became prime minister in May, during the Group of Eight and Group of 20 meetings in Canada last month.

“The conversation is likely to be drawn into a larger discussion about BP on two fronts,” wrote Heather Conley and Rick Nelson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The first, they said, is ensuring BP cleans up, compensates residents and restores the Gulf Coast after the disaster while remaining financially solvent.

They also said Obama and Cameron were likely to discuss whether the British oil giant had any influence over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, from a Scottish prison last year.


Cameron’s office has tried to play down the concern, saying the U.S. debate over how the ill Libyan convicted of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight was allowed to return home “may come up” but is not a “major issue.”

BP has confirmed it lobbied the British government in late 2007 over a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya but said it was not involved in talks on the release of al-Megrahi, which was strongly opposed by the Obama administration.

“Our viewpoint on this case last year was well-known and that was we opposed the release of the Lockerbie bomber. We made that opinion known,” Gibbs said, noting that Cameron -- who was not prime minister when Megrahi was sent to Libya -- also opposed the release.

But Gibbs said he expected the issue would come up in some form between Obama and Cameron, who said on BBC television: “I’ve no idea what BP did. I’m not responsible for BP.”

U.S. lawmakers have demanded an investigation but Cameron’s office said it had no plans to re-examine the case. “That will be up to the British government to determine,” Gibbs said.

The four U.S. senators from New York and New Jersey who want an investigation have been invited to meet Cameron on Tuesday night.

“He understands the strengths of feelings on this issue,” Cameron’s spokesman said.


Washington and London have had their differences over the BP spill since it started in late April.

Obama has sought to convince Americans he is taking a tough stance against the giant oil firm to ensure it pays for the worst oil spill in U.S. history. And Cameron has said he will stand up for BP in Washington, worried that the firm could face unreasonable compensation claims from businesses and families affected by the spill.

But the disaster is not expected to put a long-term damper on the vaunted “special relationship” between the United States and Britain -- at least as long as a new cap on the well holds and the cleanup goes well.

Obama and Cameron were eager to display their closeness when they met in Canada last month. Obama gave the new prime minister a ride in his helicopter and the two held a separate bilateral meeting in Toronto, at which they exchanged beers related to a bet over World Cup soccer.

Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government is aware Britain needs to build other special ties to maintain its influence and help its economy bounce back from recession. But Cameron is an outspoken fan of the American way of life and is not likely to distance himself from Washington.

In developing his relationship with Obama, the Conservative prime minister is likely to seek middle ground between what was seen as former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s subordinate “poodle” relationship with former U.S. President George W. Bush and the businesslike tone set by Gordon Brown, the Labour prime minister who preceded Cameron, the CSIS experts said.

The tone also could be affected by the cool personal style of Obama, who is not known for warm personal relationships with other world leaders. (Editing by Patricia Wilson and John O’Callaghan)