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Cameron: release secret Libyan documents

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 21 July 2010

David Cameron orders the release of secret documents showing how BP pressured Labour ministers over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, in a bid to defuse anger in US and distance himself from the "completely wrong" decision, Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon explains.

David Cameron and Barack Obama meeting in Washington (Image: Reuters)

The prime minister has asked for a review of government documents on the release of the Lockerbie bomber, however he resisted US calls for a full inquiry, adding: "I don't need an inquiry to tell me what a bad decision is".

Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, is to review "all the paperwork" connected to the case, he said.

Questions circling BP's connections to the release of Libyan Lockerbie bomber have so far dominated the prime minister's first official visit to Washington.

Demands from US senators for Mr Cameron to push for Abdel Baset al-Megrahi's return to the UK, and "back to justice", have overshadowed meetings with President Barack Obama.

Later today, Mr Cameron will launch a "messianic" trade offensive at a meeting with business leaders, in an effort to move on from Lockerbie and focus on driving economic recovery in the UK in the face of the vast budget cuts.

He will round up his two-day visit today in New York, with meetings with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

At a joint press conference with President Obama last night, Mr Cameron reaffirmed the "special relationship" between the UK and the US, and trumpeted the "violent agreement" the two leaders had on the subject of al-Megrahi.

More on David Cameron's US visit from Channel 4 News
Cameron tells US Lockerbie release was 'wrong'
Al-Megrahi inquiry is 'kicking BP while it's down'
Gary Gibbon blog: Cameron walks a tricky line
Timeline: Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi

He repeated his earlier assertion that the release of the bomber was "completely wrong".

Mr Cameron added that "this callous killer...showed his victims no compassion - his victims were not allowed to die in their beds at home, so in my view neither should that callous killer have been given that luxury."

However, he also repeated his conviction that al-Megrahi's release "wasn't a decision taken by BP, it was taken by the Scottish government. We have to accept that under the laws of my country, where power on certain issues is devolved to Scotland, this was a decision for the Scottish executive, a decision that they took."

He called on Americans not to confuse the Libyan Lockerbie bomber with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr Cameron said: "I completely understand the anger that exists right across America. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a catastrophe - for the environment, for fishing, for tourism. I've been absolutely clear about that.

"Like President Obama, I have also been clear that it is BP's role to cap the leak, to clean up the mess and to pay appropriate compensation. I am in regular touch with BP management to make sure that happens.
"Equally of course, BP is an important company to both the British and American economies - thousands of lives on both sides of the Atlantic depend on it, so it's in the interests of both our companies that it remains stable and strong.

"And let us not confuse the oil spill with the Libyan Lockerbie bomber."

If David Cameron really wants to know the truth about the deal with Libya, the man who knows everything is standing right beside him, writes Channel 4 News correspondent Julian Rush:

Right from the moment secret talks began between the British government and the Libyans, the name of one senior diplomat keeps cropping up.

In 2003 Britain and the US began secret talks to persuade Colonel Gaddafi to abandon his plans to acquire nuclear weapons. Condoleezza Rice, then US National Security Advisor, headed the American team, Sir Nigel Sheinwald was Britain's man.

Those talks ended with Tony Blair famously meeting Colonel Gaddafi in his desert tent in March 2004 - with Sir Nigel at his side. Sir Nigel had been the diplomat who'd chaired a series of meetings in London with the Libyans to seal the deal.

Sir Nigel went on to draft the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was eventually signed in Tripoli in May 2007, in the so-called "deal in the desert".

That MOU paved the way for the Prisoner Transfer Agreement at the centre of the allegations by US senators of BP lobbying. On the same day, Blair and Sir Nigel travelled to the Libyan city of Sirt to watch BP boss Tony Hayward sign a preliminary agreement for an oil and gas exploration deal worth some $900m.

Talk to Libyan ministers and diplomats and they'll speak of the "Nigel and Tony" double act.

Sir Nigel Sheinwald is now the British Ambassador in Washington.

President Obama, in response to a further questions about the release of al-Megrahi, emphasised that Mr Cameron was "a British prime minister who shares our anger" and quickly re-directed the conversation to praise US-UK co-operation on counter-terrorism more generally.

Mr Obama appeared to accept Mr Cameron's rejection of a full enquiry into the matter after pointing out that the Scottish government had already held an inquiry.
He said: "We should have all the facts", adding that he was "confident that the prime minister will co-operate."

Earlier, Mr Cameron was forced to change his itinerary, in order to meet a group of senators who want a new investigation into the alleged links.

The prime minister initially turned down requests for a meeting with the senators. Mr Cameron said he could not fit the meeting into the "very full schedule" of his first official Washington visit.

But on Monday, a Downing Street spokesman said Mr Cameron had invited four senators to the British ambassador's residence.

"The prime minister recognises the strength of feeling and knows how important it is to reassure the families of the victims," the spokesman said.

Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon blogs from Washington:
The talks [earlier] were dominated by Afghanistan, the draw-down, the remainder of the surge, the governance issues. The last of these featured very high in the chat.

In Kabul President Karzai was pretty brief in his words about how to reconcile the Taliban and that's because there is much still to be agreed.

David Cameron couldn't leave without some sort of gesture to the anti-BP anger so he agreed to ask Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell to see if there were more documents that might helpfully be released on the Prisoner Transfer Agreement history.

Read more

Meanwhile, the Camerons have given a painting to President Obama. It is by one of Samantha Cameron’s favourite artists, Ben Eine, and spells out "Twenty-first Century City". You can see it below.

(The painting given by Cameron to Barack Obama on his first official US trip as PM)

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