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David Cameron grilled over alleged BP role in Lockerbie bomber case

At the White House to discuss Afghanistan and the global economy, British Prime Minister David Cameron was instead questioned by reporters about allegations that BP pressured Scotland to free the Lockerbie bomber in a bid to improve business ties with Libya.

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Clearly mindful that the Megrahi controversy only further tarnishes BP’s reputation, Cameron sought to keep the two issues of the oil leak and a terrorist’s release separate. “Let us not confuse the oil spill with the Libyan issue,” he said, noting that it is important to both the British and US economies that BP remain a “strong and stable” company.

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Cameron said there was so far no evidence to suggest that BP had lobbied for Megrahi’s release, or that the Scottish government had made its decision based on BP’s efforts. “I haven’t seen anything to suggest they [in the Scottish government] were swayed by anything” from BP, he said.

But BP has acknowledged pressing for a prisoner exchange deal as far back as 2007 over its concerns that friction between the two governments was disrupting prospects for its drilling plans in Libya. And the British press was full of speculation at the time of Megrahi’s release last year that the gesture would pave the way for BP’s planned projects in Libya – projects that were said to be experiencing bureaucratic sabotage in Tripoli.

Also notable in Tuesday’s press conference was how both leaders made specific reference to the "special relationship" between the US and Britain – something some British and American pundits had speculated would not occur, as Cameron establishes his leadership legs and given Obama’s coolness to European leaders in general.

“The special relationship between our two countries will only grow stronger in the years to come,” Obama said – only to be outdone by Cameron, who first spoke of an “extremely special relationship” that he then went on to call an “essential relationship” for delivering security and prosperity.

Despite the presumed desire of both leaders to sound pragmatic, the force of history imposed itself on their comments, some experts say.

“It’s true David Cameron has promised a more hard-nosed approach to the special relationship, but at the same time he grasps the tremendous historical significance of the relations, and that came through in his comments today,” says Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Cameron even made specific reference to the “emotional” ties between the two countries, something Mr. Gardiner said should surprise no one.

“The relationship cannot be separated from the special history the US and the UK share,” Gardiner says. “It’s not an intellectual endeavor, but really a partnership between two great countries that share history, heritage, and culture.”