British Prime Minister David Cameron was trying to shift the focus of his U.S. visit away from BP and the Lockerbie bomber's release, but hard feelings lingered after he turned aside calls for a fresh investigation into whether the oil giant swayed Scotland's decision to release the only person convicted of boming Pan Am 108.
Cameron today is scheduled to travel by train to New York to meet with senior U.S. business leaders about prospects for increased trade and investment. He also will hold talks with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and attend a dinner hosted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg before flying back to Britain.
Before leaving Washington, the British leader also planned to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery before heading to the Pentagon for briefings on military operations in Afghanistan.
Cameron had hoped to use his first visit to the U.S. since taking office 10 weeks ago to build his standing as a statesman and develop his relation with President Barack Obama.
Instead, the Lockerbie issue overshadowed a broader agenda that Obama and Cameron discussed in the Oval Office and over lunch Tuesday before addressing reporters. The 43-year-old Cameron, a few years younger than Obama, took power in May and leads a coalition government of his Conservative Party and the smaller Liberal Democrats.
Cameron and Obama displayed a united front on the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, the need for direct Middle East peace talks and the fight in Afghanistan. But Cameron turned aside U.S. calls for a fresh investigation into why the convicted Lockerbie bomber was set free by Scotland and whether BP - already under fire for its role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill - had a role in the controversial decision.
Obama stood by his new peer but said "all the facts" must come out.
Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was convicted for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am 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.
On Tuesday night, the four U.S. Democratic senators from New York and New Jersey, the home states of many of the Lockerbie victims, met with Cameron for 45 minutes. They left with the impression that a further investigation may not be out of the question.
"We made the case that there's just too much suspicion here to sort of brush this aside," said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
In front of reporters, Cameron was notably defensive of the British company. He said BP must be responsible for cleaning up the Gulf oil spill and for compensating victims, but he also described BP's success as vital to the British and U.S. economies and to thousands of workers.
"Let us not confuse the oil spill with the Libyan bomber," Cameron said, a point he emphasized more than once.
Late Tuesday, the White House said Cameron had extended an invitation on behalf of Queen Elizabeth for Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to attend a state dinner in their honor in London.