British Prime Minister David Cameron Speaks to ABC's Diane Sawyer

Diane Sawyer's complete interview with Britain's new prime minister.

ByABC News
July 20, 2010, 2:58 PM

Washington, D.C. July 20, 2010— -- Newly-elected British Prime Minister David Cameron is making his first official visit to the United States. Today, he spoke with ABC's Diane Sawyer in an exclusive, wide-ranging interview on everything from the BP oil spill to the release of the Lockerbie bomber to the U.S.-U.K. coalition in Afghanistan.

Below, read the transcript of their conversation, conducted today at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.:


DIANE SAWYER:Tell me, your first official visit to the United States.


DIANE SAWYER:What is it you most want to get done, most want to say?

DAVID CAMERON:What I most want to get done is to build a strong relationship with, you know, our oldest and best ally. It's a very important opportunity for -- for me and for Britain, to make sure that the oldest alliance we have, the most important one, the special relationship as we see it, the essential relationship, as I would call it, that it -- it works well. And you know, from the times I've met Barack Obama before, we do have very, very close -- allegiances and very close positions on all the key issues, whether that is Afghanistan or Middle East peace process or Iran. Our interests are aligned and we've got to make this partnership work.

DIANE SAWYER:You've defined it a little differently. You said, "We are the junior partner."

DAVID CAMERON:Well, we are. I mean, we were the junior partner in 1940, when we were fighting against Hitler. We're the junior partner now. I think it's -- I'm a realist about life. I mean, I think you shouldn't pretend to be something that you're not. Britain is a staunch ally of the US. We do many, many things together, but we are the junior partner. If you look at the size of our armed forces, if you look at our respective contributions in Afghanistan, we're the second largest troop contributor. But America is way the largest.

You've got 100,000 troops. We've got 10,000 troops. We're the second largest, but there's a big gap between the two. So we're the junior partner. But I think we bring a lot to the relationship. I think that we have allegiances around the world, knowledge of countries through the commonwealth, through our old relations with countries like India and Pakistan, relations in the gulf.

We've got a lot of things that we bring to the relationship. Intelligence services, the very good work of our armed forces. So I think there's quite a lot that we bring to this special relationship, but yes, we are the junior partner in it. And we shouldn't -- we shouldn't have ideas beyond, you know, the -- it's very important that you're realistic about what you are, who you are, what you can achieve.

DIANE SAWYER:I know you've met Barack Obama before, but I'm curious. When you first met him, what's the thing personally you most wanted to know about him? What intrigued you the most?

DAVID CAMERON:I was just intrigued. I mean, I met him during the sort of campaign period. He -- when he did his big speech in Berlin, he then came over to the U.K. And I met him. I think I was the last person to meet him before he got on the plane to come back here. And I was just intrigued to find out what -- what this guy was like. And he is, you know, he's one of the calmest, coolest people I've come across -- extremely friendly, very easy to get to know, very clear in his mind about what he believes and what he wants.

DIANE SAWYER:Anything about him surprise you?

DAVID CAMERON:Yes, his frankness, actually. We had -- it's the first time we'd met, so the calmness. He was -- you know, if I was in his shoes, I was meeting some opposition politician, 'cause I wasn't in government then. You know, you want to get back to the United States, but we had a good hour proper long session, discuss things. So the calmness. Also the frankness about his prospects in the elections. He was very frank about the problems he had to overcome, in terms of -- you know, people's beliefs about him and his background and his name and all. I remember him being very frank about that. And I thought that was -- that was great, actually, to have such a frank assessment, such a calm assessment of all the problems you have to overcome to win. And -- and he won big.

DIANE SAWYER:You talk about the economic problems and the budgetary problems. You have declared it a kind of age of austerity now for Great Britain. And you have talked about cuts that make eyes pop open here in the United States, 20 to 25 percent cuts across so many of your government programs, including some in defense as well as tax increases, which again, stupefy a lot of Americans that you can do that right now.

Here's the question. As we know, the Obama administration has expressed the feeling that it is too soon to start cutting and start cutting toward real austerity. They think it's still a time for stimulus. Do you think the United States is just wrong?

DAVID CAMERON:No, I don't. I mean, there are -- we're different countries. We have -- different needs and we're going to do things at different speeds. You know, America is still a reserve currency. You guys can run -- a bigger deficit for longer than we can. But you know, this year, we are borrowing more than virtually any other country in the G20. We're actually borrowing this -- more this year than Greece. So it's necessary for Britain to tighten its belt and to prove that we can live within our means. And -- having won the election on that basis and formed a coalition government on that basis, I want to demonstrate that that's what we're going to do.

DIANE SAWYER:But did the president and his team indicate to you that they were worried that this was going to trigger a second dip in the recession, that this would be the very trigger that suddenly turned everything down again?

DAVID CAMERON:What the president said to me was that -- he -- he understood why different European countries have to do things at different speeds. At the G20, what was discussed was how we all need to deal with our deficits. Some have to move earlier than others. And the G20 specifically endorsed that. And if anyone has to move early, it's us, 'cause we've got the biggest budget deficit.

And also we've got to correct the imbalances in the world. We need the Chinese to -- you know, spend more, save less -- consume more and not be so focused on exports. There are big changes we need in the world. That's what the G20 concluded. So there's no differences between Britain and America on this issue. There's just the difference of timing. But our timing is, we need to get on with it. And when I stand back from it, I think, "This is right."

I mean, I'm a conservative. I believe that, you know, if you borrow too much, you just build up debts for your children to pay off. You put pressure on interest rates. You put at risk your economy. That's the case in Britain. We're not a reserve currency, so we need to get on and deal with this issue. Now we've passed -- a budget that was quite tough. It does have some tax increases. But most of the burden is going to be borne by spending reduction. But we need to do this to prove that we can live within our means. That will strengthen our economy, strengthen our recovery and -- give us a chance to -- to build a strong -- a strong society for the future.

DIANE SAWYER:You do feel so strongly about this. You don't look at the United States, in any way say you are continuing to stimulate yourself into a point of no return, and deficit spending to a point of no return.

DAVID CAMERON:Well, President Obama himself has got plans for quite an aggressive budget deficit reduction that I think is going to take your deficit down to three percent of GDP from -- from where it is today by 20 -- by 2015. That's quite an aggressive -- program. But as I say, America being a reserve currency doesn't, I think, have to move at quite the same speed as perhaps we do in the U.K., where -- you know, nobody -- owes us a living.

DIANE SAWYER:The junior partner is not going to scold the United States?

DAVID CAMERON:Certainly not. There -- for different countries to do things in different ways, we're all heading in the same direction. We all know that we have to replace stimulus with dealing with our deficits. But we have to get on and -- and deal with that. And the G20 and the G8 were very specific, that those countries with the biggest deficit problems needed to move the first. Needed to move the quickest, and that's what we're doing.

DIANE SAWYER:BP. Are you as angry about what happened in the Gulf as Americans are?

DAVID CAMERON:Yes, I am -- I was very angry about it, because anyone who cares about the environment, when you see those pictures of oil pouring out of an underground well and doing so much environmental damage, doing so much damage to -- to wildlife, to beaches, to livelihood, that makes you angry. And I want -- BP to sort it out. And they are sorting it out. It's good that their cap is now fitted on the well. It's too early to say just how successful that's been.

And I think it's good that BP has set aside $20 billion, one of the biggest amounts of money in corporate history for this sort of compensation payment. And it's good that they're starting to make that compensation. And I -- I hope they'll do that.

I've spoke to them. I had a good meeting with the chairman of BP last week. They want to do that. They want to cap the well. They want to clean up the mess. They want to make those payments. But I do think it's also in Britain's interest and also America's interest -- and the world's interest that BP remains a strong and stable company, not least so it's able to make those payouts to those fishermen, to those hotel owners, to the business owners who've been hit by the spill. It's important it remains a strong, stable company that has an independent future, because we do need to have good, strong, competitive businesses competing with each other to maintain -- energy security and also make sure that the world isn't just dominated by state-run oil corporations.

DIANE SAWYER:Did it trouble you how tough the president has been? He has said that he doesn't want to see any money being spent on ads -- when so many small businesses are suffering down in the Gulf. At one point, he called BP reckless. At another point, he said he was looking for who's ass to kick. That is a direct quote from the president.

DAVID CAMERON:Look, I don't want to get into a war of words over this. The president and I have spoken about this. We agree it's important BP does those things it should do --

DIANE SAWYER:But did you think this was unhelpful? Did you have any differences with him on this?

DAVID CAMERON:I -- I don't want to, as I say, to get into a war of words. What matters is dealing with the issue. And the issue is, the spill in the gulf, the need to cap the wells, the need to make the payments, rather than get into -- a war of words. I don't want to -- to do that.

I'm interested, and President Obama said this to me himself. I'm interested in not making this a U.S.-U.K. issue. It shouldn't be. BP has 39 percent of its shareholders, I think, in the US and 40 percent in the U.K. It's pretty balanced between the two countries. And as I say, it's in our interests in the long-term that this is -- this company has a strength and stability to be able to make those payments, clear up the spill and continue as a strong and independent oil business.

DIANE SAWYER:As you know, some of the -- some of the estimates, looking down the road, are that over 15 years or even less, the payments required by promises and also by fines and also by the fund for the compensation could be $60 billion to $100 billion. Is that just too much?

DAVID CAMERON:Well, I don't want to speculate on what the number will be.

DIANE SAWYER:Is there a point at which you might intervene and say, "That's -- that's too much?"

DAVID CAMERON:Well, I think there are some areas where we need to be clear that -- we need to be clear about what BP's responsibility is. Cap the well, yes. Clear up the mess, yes. Make compensation -- yes, absolutely. But would it be right to have legislation that independently targets BP rather than other companies? I don't think that -- would be right.

Would it be right to say -- that BP has to pay compensation for -- damages that were nothing to do directly with the spill? I don't think that would be right. So I think we have to be clear about what its responsibility is. And those are discussions, obviously, that BP has -- with the -- with the US administration. And now also -- the key point is there is now -- a legal proceeding underway where BP will rightly have to make its arguments and will have to pay out the compensation it's asked to pay out.

DIANE SAWYER:But the question of what is a direct result, and not is an ambiguous one in some cases and --

DAVID CAMERON:That's right.

DIANE SAWYER: --there are businesses who are going to -- to say, with some justification, "Look, we have losses that," they may be the second, third level of loss, but they are real losses because of the spill.

DAVID CAMERON:But that's for this court process to determine. I mean, I think -- you might have your ideas. I might have my ideas. But I think in the end, that's why there is a court process now to sort this issue out. And I think that can be sorted out. And I think that's where President Obama and I will -- will agree. That's the right way to go about this. And it's good that the process is now set up.

DIANE SAWYER: Lockerbie.


DIANE SAWYER:And Abdel al-Megrahi, who was released about a year ago on compassionate, humanitarian reasons back to Libya. He was convicted in the Pan-Am bombing. What, more than 270 people died in that. As you know, a group of senators have now said because we now know that BP has acknowledged approaching the British government about its concern about Libya and getting its lease ratified and underway, they have asked for three things. They have asked that you reopen an investigation into what really happened. Will you do that?

DAVID CAMERON:Well, what I -- what I'll -- first of all, I agree with the senators and with huge numbers of people, not just in America, but also in Britain, that releasing Megrahi was wrong. I said it was wrong a year ago, when I was leader of the opposition. I say it again now.

He was convicted of the biggest mass murder in British history. In my view, that man should have died in jail, full stop, end of. Nothing to add to that. You know, you don't release people who have done a crime -- who've been convicted of a crime that serious. That's the first thing I'd say. The second thing is, we should be clear about who was responsible for the decision to release him. It was a decision taken by the Scottish government. It's a decision they believe they followed all the correct processes, under their law. And they took that decision and they have to be the ones held accountable and responsible for it. It was their decision. And I think everyone understood that at the time.

In terms of, is there more we should do to make sure that all the information about this decision is made public? Yes, and today, I'm asking the cabinet secretary in the U.K. to go back over all the paperwork and see if there's anything else that should be released and is the clearest possible picture out there of -- of what decision was taken and why.

But I would just say this in terms of an inquiry. I don't currently think that a sort of, another full inquiry by the British government is currently the right way, currently necessary, because I don't need an inquiry to tell me what I think I already know, which is it was a bad decision to release him. And it was a bad decision to even contemplate this. So -- so I think we should try and separate that, frankly, from the issue of -- of BP and the oil spill and the need to clear that up and get all that sorted out, which I desperately want to happen as well.

DIANE SAWYER:But as we know, when one of the ministers has acknowledged, and not in your government, but before, acknowledged that BP and concern about BP and getting trade leases with Libya was part of -- of course, it was a factor in it. He was readily acknowledging it. Is it a different order of magnitude if it is an oil company putting however adroit the pressure, but some pressure on the British government, which nobody believes to be transfer somehow into the into the knowledge and decision-making in Scotland? Is that a different order of magnitude if BP was involved --

DAVID CAMERON:I think -- well, I think the -- the point about the decision by the Scottish government is that's already been looked at by a committee of the Scottish parliament. And I'm sure they'll be happy for others to look at this decision. I -- I think what they will find, with the decision the Scottish government took was that they followed the correct processes. They thought they were doing the right thing. They thought the -- I think they made the wrong decision. But I -- I think that is pretty, the evidence about that is pretty clear. But as I say, I know there is a Congressional hearing going to take place. We will make --

DIANE SAWYER:Full cooperation?

DAVID CAMERON:Absolutely. We will cooperate in whatever way we can. But I would just, you know, I think it's important we get sort of straight in our heads. This was, you know, this was not a decision that BP took. This is a decision a government took. The wrong decision in my view, but a government took that decision. And I think that's quite important.

DIANE SAWYER:One other concrete request from the senators was that there be a moratorium on any drilling of any kind until this matter has been settled in Libya by BP.

DAVID CAMERON:Well, I, I think that trying to connect these issues up, I don't think, is right, frankly.

DIANE SAWYER:So that's not a consideration? That's not a possibility?

DAVID CAMERON:Well, I -- I'm going meet with the senators, with the Congressmen this evening. I'm looking forward to, to doing that. I'll listen to their arguments. But as I say, I think that you, there are arguments about the release of al-Megrahi, right or wrong. My view, wrong. There are arguments about BP in the Gulf and there are arguments that BP should answer about who they lobbied about what and when and all the rest of it. But I don't think that actually changes what really happened, which was a decision was taken by a legitimate government in a, they think, legitimate way for legitimate reasons, which lots of people, me included, happen to think is wrong.

DIANE SAWYER:Afghanistan.


DIANE SAWYER:Is -- are the international forces winning?

DAVID CAMERON:I think we're making progress. I think that if you look at what's happening in terms of training up the Afghan national army, which is now, you know, up above 100,000. If you look at what's happening in Helmand Province, which is the toughest part of Afghanistan, you can see there are now district governors in places in the overwhelming majority of the districts. If you look at the rest of Afghanistan, the economy's growing. There's progress being made. But is it tough? Is it difficult? Are we losing too many lives there? Yes, I -- I would say that's the case.

I think we need to just be very clear about what we're trying to do in Afghanistan. Frankly, we're not trying to create the perfect democracy. We're never going to create some ideal society. We are simply there for our own national security. For your security here in the US, for our security in the U.K. That means having an Afghan government that is capable of securing its own country, and that is the key condition. That's the only condition we should really be putting on all of this. And that's why training the Afghan army so that we can bring our troops home is the key metric, if you like, that we should be trying to -- to measure.

DIANE SAWYER:And you have talked about 2015 for that date. Will you be out in 2015, no matter what?

DAVID CAMERON:What I've said is that 2015, just to reassure the British public that this is not never-ending, is that 2015, you know, by then, there will not be British combat troops. There will not be large numbers. Will we have a relationship with Afghanistan into the future, in terms of aid and governance and assistance and maybe even some military training? Yes, of course. I think part of the problem with both Afghanistan and Pakistan is too many times in the past, Britain and America and others have left them alone. And we need to have a long-term relationship with these countries.

But I think people have a right to know that this war stage, this fighting stage, this troop stage, is not going to go on forever. And what's interesting about the Kabul conference today is that has reaffirmed again this idea that it's 2040, that the training of the Afghan army should be completed by, so they should be able to take responsibility for their own security by that time.

DIANE SAWYER:Will there be enough forces? As you know, the Canadians are talking about withdrawing. Poland is talking about withdrawing. Australia is now talking about pulling out. Will there be enough forces to even transition out?

DAVID CAMERON:Well, we have a huge increase in the force numbers this year, compared with last year. I mean, I just -- I mean, I have a slightly Helmand-centric view of Afghanistan.

DIANE SAWYER:Where the British have been so --

DAVID CAMERON: --because that's where British, that's where the British have been fighting so hard and doing such a brilliant and brave job. But you know, there are now 10,000 British troops there. And there are now 20,000 US troops. Now that compares with, you know, last year or the year before, probably only a third of that number. So it's a massive increase that has taken place.

And that can make a difference. And the key is, while protecting more of the public, are we training up the Afghan army so they can take over? And what we're seeing recently is the Afghans actually running some military operations on their own. The Kabul conference is actually an Afghan-led conference which they have run, so the capacity of this state, and it's far from perfect. And Karzai's far from perfect. But the capacity is growing. And that, in the end, is what is going to enable us to come home and leave with our heads held high, because our national security will have been safeguarded. That's the key.

DIANE SAWYER:Despite the past disappointments in the ability to train up the Afghan forces, you're convinced this time -- this time it's going to happen.

DAVID CAMERON:Well, I don't think that -- I mean, frankly, we wasted too much time in Afghanistan. You know, we went in in 2001. We removed the Taliban regime. And then tragically, particularly after Iraq, the world looked the other way. And we wasted years in Afghanistan. And we're making up for that wasted time now.

And for too long, we weren't pursuing the right strategy. For too long, we didn't have all the pieces in place. I profoundly believe now, at least we have got the pieces in place. We've got the correct number of troops in Afghanistan. We've got aid going into Afghanistan. And one of the things I'll be discussing with the president today is the political track of actually encouraging people that have been fighting for the insurgents to rejoin the political process, put down their arms and pursue their goals through peaceful means. That is now beginning to happen.

And you know, if you think of how we've ended insurgencies across the world, there tends to be some politics at the end of this, rather than just military struggles. I mean, in the U.K., I sit down around a table with Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, people who were trying to kill my predecessors, you know? That is including people into a political process who were once insurgents. And that has to happen in Afghanistan as well.

DIANE SAWYER:The Taliban, one of the Taliban leaders said that an enemy talking timetables of withdrawal is an enemy that has failed.

DAVID CAMERON:Well, I don't accept that, because the truth is that the only timetable I'm talking about is saying to the British people, you know, be clear by 2015, so we're not there. That is five years away, in what has already been a very, very long conflict. And I think you can see this year, with the increase in the troop numbers, the training in the Afghan army, the impetus, the momentum is very much with the allies and what they're doing.

DIANE SAWYER:Must make note of, not to mention the casualties, 321, perhaps more, fatalities among British troops. And we have seen those incredible scenes of the hearses in the village streets with the veterans --


DIANE SAWYER: --saluting them as they go by. What do you do, now that you are prime minister, for each of those? What do you do when you're sitting along at night?

DAVID CAMERON:Well, it is, by far, I mean, by a million miles, the biggest responsibility, the biggest challenge that I feel that I have personal responsibility for what happens, for the fact that we have troops in combat, for the fact those people are in harm's way, and for the fact that yes, tragically, some, you know, don't come home or come home having given their lives and -- and -- and given that sacrifice.

And also, and often we don't read about this, as well as those that die, there are those who lose limbs and who are wounded, sometimes terribly, who have a lifetime of difficulty because of that. I take full responsibility for that. And I think very hard all the time -- Are we in Afghanistan in the right way, for the right reasons? Are we doing the right thing? And how can we do it better? And that's one of the reasons I wanted to be here today, talking to the president, because in the end, it is going to be the British and the Americans and other key allies in NATO who either get this right or don't get it right.

And this is the biggest responsibility I have. In terms of those families, we try to do everything we can in the U.K. to help them. And to, you know, make sure that they can -- they can live a life and try to help them get over their grief. But it is -- you never get over your grief. You never forget something that you've lost. And it is incredibly tough and they are bearing an incredible burden for us.

DIANE SAWYER:Because we're getting to know you for the first time as prime minister, a couple of questions, if I can. We saw incredible campaign videos of you putting dishes in the dishwater, as we know --

DAVID CAMERON:The things we do.

DIANE SAWYER:-- and making the porridge.


DIANE SAWYER:Stirring the porridge. You have a new baby on the way. So what's going to happen with the diapers now and the dishes now?

DAVID CAMERON:Well, there'll be the usual family row about who does what. I mean, I'll try and be a -- try and be a good, hands-on dad. But Sam and I have talked about it and she said, "You know, I expect you to be a bit less hands-on this time -- this time around."

But the good thing is, we live above Number 10 Downing Street, so it is possible. I've always said, it must be possible to be a good prime minister and a good father and a good husband. But September and the arrival of a new one is going to test that, that theory.

DIANE SAWYER:Was it tough for her to give up her job as a creative executive?

DAVID CAMERON:Well, she hasn't given up the job. She's sort of working part-time. And she, I think actually it's working well that she enjoys getting out of Downing Street and being involved in work. She also enjoys what I'm doing, what we're doing together. But she's very much a family person, so the, what she's most protective of is -- is, you know, are we going to get a decent holiday and have some time together, and time with the children.

And that's good, because you know, in this job, there are always a thousand other things you could be doing. And you've got to make sure that you do find time for your family and your children. And for a good reason, which is that, you know, hopefully, one of the reasons you -- you become prime minister is because you've got some -- some balance and some equilibrium and some sort of reasonable judgment you bring to the problems of life. And if you get frazzled and fried and exhausted and forget who you are, then you're going to be a rubbish dad. But you'll probably be a rubbish prime minister too.

DIANE SAWYER:And at the end of the day, what is it, quoting Dr. Seuss, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better?"

DAVID CAMERON:It's not. That's right. The Lorax, one of my favorite books I read to my children at night. And I sometimes send it to schools when I visit, 'cause I think it's great -- it's good. It's a lot of fun, but it's got a little bit of a moral message in there.

DIANE SAWYER:I did want to ask you about being the youngest prime minister in, oh, what is it in England, 200 years? Nothing, right, to you? And this apparent generational shift. If you just look at Medvedev, Sarkozy, Obama, a whole new group coming in, a post-World War II generation, a post-Cold War generation. What does that mean? What's the most important common denominator of being this new generation?

DAVID CAMERON:I'm -- I'm not sure. I mean, it may, it may be something that happens and then, you know, then it changes again. I mean, I'm a great respecter of the old and the wise and the experienced. You know, they've seen it all and done it all. And you know, if you stop listening to them, then you're making a big -- a big mistake.

I think it's interesting. There are quite a lot of young leaders coming through. I don't think it signifies, I think each circumstance is -- is probably different. I mean, in ten years time, we might be sitting here saying, "Isn't it great? We've got back to 65 and 70-year-olds running the world."

So I -- I don't know. I don't think it's any one particular shift.

DIANE SAWYER:They might not have given the president Radiohead. Right? Didn't you give him a playlist?

DAVID CAMERON:I did, I did, and Lily Allen as well, I remember.

DIANE SAWYER:And Lily Allen, right.

DAVID CAMERON:I met Lily Allen after that and said, "I gave your record to the president."

She said, "Yeah, I know, but I'm still not voting for you." (LAUGHTER) So you can't win, can you?

DIANE SAWYER:So I have to, Goose Island 312?


DIANE SAWYER:Did you have it cold? How was it?

DAVID CAMERON:I have. I've been, I've, as ordered to by the president, I put it in the fridge. And I've been drinking it while watching some of the World Cup. And it's very good. It's very good beer. Beer from Chicago, very different from the stuff we have back in the U.K., but good nonetheless.

DIANE SAWYER:Well done and that's a big welcome to America.

DAVID CAMERON:Thank you very much.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events