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British Prime Minister David Cameron has reversed course and agreed to meet today with four US senators who want to discuss with him the decision last year to release the only person convicted in the Lockerbie bombing.
The move comes as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has asked Britain to review the decision to release Abdel Baset al-Megrahi amid recent media reports that British oil giant BP lobbied for his release in exchange for a Libyan oil contract.
The Libyan was convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, which killed 270 people – 190 of them American. Mr. Megrahi, who doctors said had only three months to live, was released on humanitarian grounds after serving only eight years of his life sentence.
The issue threatens to overshadow the British prime minister’s first visit to the US since taking office in May.
Four Democratic senators – Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the two states where many of the American victims lived – wrote to Mr. Cameron on Monday asking to meet with him to discuss Megrahi's release. Mr. Cameron initially declined, but then agreed late Monday night to meet them Tuesday, reports The Daily Telegraph.
Cameron was not a member of the government in power at the time of the release, and the decision was made by Scottish officials, not those in London. He has made clear that he views the decision to release Megrahi – who is still alive 10 months later – as a mistake, and repeated that view in an op-ed Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal. He said there is “no daylight” between himself and President Obama on the issue, and called the release “a very bad decision.”
A columnist for The Daily Telegraph berated the US leaders for taking Cameron to task for a decision he wasn’t responsible for:
So perhaps our American friends would do well to consider this: holding David Cameron responsible for the actions of Scottish Nationalist Party ministers in 2009 is like holding Barack Obama responsible for the actions of the Supreme Court of Texas and its Republican governor in 2007.
The four US senators may be hoping to convince Cameron to launch an investigation into BP’s role in the release. They wrote in their letter to Cameron that they wanted to discuss "what we can all do to provide greater transparency into the circumstances surrounding the release, address the injustice, and ensure that a similar mistake is not repeated,” according to Agence France-Presse.
Media reports have suggested that British oil giant BP lobbied the Scottish government to release Megrahi.
Read a copy of a letter posted on Mr. Schumer's website requesting that Attorney General Eric Holder investigate BP's role in the affair, even as the oil giant deals with its massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP acknowledged last week that it urged the British government in 2007 to speed up a prisoner release because it was worried that a stalemate on the issue would undercut an oil exploration deal with Libya. But the company has denied it sought the specific release of Megrahi.
In a letter to the senators released Monday, Secretary Clinton said she had asked the British and Scottish governments to review the facts and circumstances surrounding the decision to release Megrahi and consider any new information, saying his release was an “affront to the victims' families, the memories of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing, and to all of those who worked tirelessly to ensure justice was served," reports the Associated Press.
But the prime minister’s office said to the BBC Monday that an inquiry was "not currently under consideration."
According to the AP, Clinton wrote that British Foreign Secretary William Hague had agreed to address Congress on the issue of BP’s role. He sent a letter to Clinton on Saturday denying the accusations, saying, "There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegations of BP involvement in the Scottish executive's decision to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009, nor any suggestion that the Scottish executive decided to release al-Megrahi in order to facilitate oil deals for BP."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will convene a public hearing on the subject on July 29.