Questions Over BP Lobbying for Lockerbie Bomber's Release Overshadows Obama, Cameron Meeting

The agenda for today's White House meetings between President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron included the war in Afghanistan, the Middle East peace process and cooperation on the global economy.

But overshadowing those pressing policy issues were questions over the role that oil company BP had in pushing for the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al Megrahi last year in order to help secure a lucrative oil exploration deal with Libya.

Libyan-born al Megrahi was convicted of masterminding the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people, most of them American. He was sentenced to life in prison but was released and allowed to return to Libya last year on compassionate grounds after it was determined he had only three months left to live. Now his health is good, and he is living the hero's life in Libya.

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Both BP and the current British government, which came to power only months ago, deny the company played any role in securing the bomber's release last year.

Cameron insisted repeatedly today that the decision to release Megrahi was solely that of the Scottish government and he has not seen anything to indicate that they were swayed by any lobbying efforts by BP. He also said he did not think there was a need for a U.-K. based inquiry into the matter.

"I don't need an inquiry to tell me what was a bad decision," he said. "It was a bad decision."

The British Prime Minister did say that while there was "absolutely not harm to be done" by providing a full explanation into the circumstances, he did not think there was "any great mystery here."

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"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."

Obama said he agreed that the release of Megrahi was a "bad decision," but he said he fully supports Cameron's efforts to learn more.

This was Cameron's first official visit to the White House since he took office in May.

Both Obama and Cameron emphasized the "special relationship" between their two nations and Obama said that the United States "has no closer ally and no stronger partner than Great Britain."

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The two leaders displayed a warm camaraderie in just their second face-to-face meeting since Cameron became prime minister, joking about soccer and how to convince their young children to clean their rooms. (Give them notice that the prime minister is coming, Obama said.)

Obama was effusive in his praise of the young Conservative Party prime minister and emphasized their cooperation.

"I appreciate David's steady leadership and his pragmatic approach," he said. "And just as he's off to an energetic start at home, I think we've had a brilliant start as partners who see eye to eye on virtually every challenge before us."

Last month at the G8/G20 summit in Canada, Obama gave Cameron a lift on his presidential helicopter, Marine One, and paid up on their World Cup soccer bet. After the U.S.-England match ended in a tie, the two leaders exchanged beers in a sign of good sportsmanship.

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Today Obama said that part of the two leaders' "excellent discussions" focused on how to serve beer, warm or cold.

"My understanding is, is that the prime minister enjoyed our 312 beer, and we may send him some more," Obama said of the Chicago beer he sent the prime minister. "I thought the beer we got was excellent. But I did drink it cold."

Beer bets aside, Obama said that much of their conversations centered on Afghanistan, where Britain has been the United States' top ally. Cameron has said he wants to withdraw his country's troops by the next election, which would be before 2015.

Obama called the international conference in Kabul today "another major step forward," citing the Afghan government's presentation of plans to improve security, economic growth, good governance and basic government services.

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"These are all important achievements, and they go a long way towards helping create the conditions needed for Afghans to assume greater responsibility for their country," the president said. "Indeed, over the coming years, Afghans will begin to take the lead in security and, in July of next year, will begin to transfer -- we will begin to transfer some of our forces out of Afghanistan."

Even as the two leaders tried to emphasize their discussions on Afghanistan and other global issues, reporters focused on BP and the Lockerbie bomber.

Cameron said he understands the anger in the United States aimed at BP over the oil spill, which he called a "catastrophe for the environment, for the fishing industry, for tourism."

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The British Prime Minister said he is in regular touch with senior management at the oil company and said that given the fact that BP is important to both the British and American economies, there is a vital interest in ensuring it remains strong and stable.

But Cameron said that there should be no confusion between the oil spill and the Libyan bomber.

"That wasn't a decision taken by BP; it was a decision taken by the Scottish government," he said. "We have to accept that under the laws of my country, where power on certain issues has devolved to Scotland, this was a decision for the Scottish executive -- a decision that they took."

Cameron agreed to meet this evening with a group of concerned US senators to discuss what role, if any, British oil giant BP had in pushing for the release al Megrahi last year.

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Cameron had initially declined to meet with the senators, but changed his mind because he "recognizes the strength of feelings" about the Lockerbie bomber, a Downing Street spokesman tells ABC News.

ABC News' Kirit Radia contributed to this report.