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Obama, Cameron Discuss Afghanistan, BP at White House


U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron held wide-ranging talks at the White House on Tuesday, focusing on Afghanistan, British energy firm BP and the release earlier this year of a Libyan convicted in the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. The two men seem to have deepened an already strong personal relationship.

Mr. Cameron is the second British prime minister President Obama has worked with, in an alliance that prior to Tuesday's meeting Mr. Cameron described as being based on national interests rather than historical ties or blind loyalty.

Nowhere is that alliance being tested more than in Afghanistan, where Britain has 9,000 troops in the international force fighting Taliban forces.

Although Mr. Cameron said last month that he would like to see all British forces leave Afghanistan by 2015, President Obama said they agree on strategy. "We have the right strategy. We are going to break the Taliban's momentum. We're going to build Afghan capacity so Afghans can take responsibility for their future. And we're going to deepen regional cooperation including with Pakistan," he said.

There was no discussion during the news conference of next July's target date for U.S. forces to begin drawing down in Afghanistan, which President Obama has stressed would be based on conditions on the ground.

Prime Minister Cameron said they assessed progress in a "vital year" in Afghanistan and reaffirmed the commitment to preparing Afghan forces to take on full security responsibilities. But Mr. Cameron stressed the importance of a political strategy.

"Insurgencies tend not to be defeated by military means alone. There must also be [a] political settlement. And to those people currently fighting, if they give up violence, if they cut themselves off from al-Qaida, if they accept the basic tenets of the Afghan constitution, they can have a future in a peaceful Afghanistan," he said.

President Obama and Mr. Cameron referred to the outcome of the international donors conference in Kabul at which Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he is determined that the government will take charge of security by 2014.

The two leader also discussed the British-based energy company BP and the controversy surrounding allegations that it influenced a Scottish government decision to release Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi - the Libyan man convicted for his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The British prime minister said there was full agreement that it was wrong to release al-Megrahi. Saying there is nothing to suggest that BP was involved in influencing the Scottish decision, Mr. Cameron said he does not think a full British government investigation is needed. "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. And I don't think we need an extra inquiry to tell us that that is what happened," he said.

Mr. Cameron said he would order a review of all documentation from the al-Megrahi case and that the British government would cooperate fully with any U.S. congressional probe.

President Obama and Mr. Cameron stressed the need to move toward direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, with Mr. Cameron saying that it is time for the two sides to test the seriousness of the other.

On Iran, both men urged the government in Tehran to fulfill international obligations or face growing pressure over a nuclear program the United States, Britain and other Western powers say, but Tehran denies, is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon.

OBAMA: "We remain committed to a diplomatic solution but the Iranian government must understand that the path of defiance will only bring more pressure and isolation."

CAMERON: "America and Britain with our partners stand ready to negotiate and to do so in good faith. But in the absence of a willing partner, we will implement with vigor the sanctions package agreed by the U.N. Security Council. And in Europe, we will be taking further steps as well."

On the global economy, President Obama said he and Prime Minister Cameron are determined to ensure that a similar financial crisis does not happen again. The president said he is committed to dealing with short-term deficits and debt, and tackling what he called big structural reforms that will be tough to implement amid recovery from the recession.

A glimpse of the apparent warmth of the Obama-Cameron relationship was seen at the start of the news conference, as Mr. Obama joked about the temperature of American and British beers they shared.

Mr. Cameron remarked about the tour of the White House he received, saying he was impressed at the tidiness of the bedrooms of President Obama's daughters, Sasha and Malia.

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