WASHINGTON - Drawn into an old disaster, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday he would not order a fresh investigation into why a convicted bomber was set free or whether BP had a role in it. President Barack Obama stood by his new peer but said that "all the facts" must come out.
In declaring his position - to potentially make public more information from an earlier investigation of the man's release, but not start a new one - Cameron politely but roundly rebuffed the U.S. government in his first White House visit.
Obama sought a diplomatic tone in response, saying the U.S. would "welcome any additional information," and made clear he wanted it. Interest in the case again is swirling because of its possible links to BP, the company facing huge fallout in the United States for causing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
"I think all of us here in the United States were surprised, disappointed and angry about the release of the Lockerbie bomber," Obama said in a short news conference dominated by the topic. Yet, he added: "The key thing to understand here is that we've got a British prime minister who shares our anger over the decision. And so I'm fully supportive of Prime Minister Cameron's efforts to gain a better understanding of it."
At issue is Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the 1988 bombing of a jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people, most of them American. The Scottish government released the cancer-stricken man on compassionate grounds last year, igniting outrage on both sides of the Atlantic.
Bringing the matter to the fore again are accusations that BP sought the release of the convicted bomber as part of efforts to seek access to Libyan oil fields; BP has acknowledged that it urged the British government to sign a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya but says it never specified al-Megrahi's case.
"Any lobbying they might have done is an issue for BP, and an issue that they should explain themselves," Cameron said. However, the British leader said he has not seen anything suggesting that the Scottish government was swayed by BP.
The issue overshadowed a broader agenda that Obama and Cameron discussed in the Oval Office and over lunch before addressing reporters.
Just ahead of Cameron's arrival in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton requested that the Scottish and British governments review exactly what happened in al-Megrahi's release. That seemed to go nowhere with Cameron, who said: "I don't think there's any great mystery here.
"There was a decision taken by the Scottish Executive - in my view, a wholly wrong and misguided decision, a bad decision, but their decision, nonetheless," he said. "That's what happened, and I don't think we need an extra inquiry to tell us that that's what happened."