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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2010

OBAMA ANTI-BRITISH?

In London, U.S. Ambassador Louis Susman is fending off criticism that President Obama displayed an anti-British attitude in his attacks on BP over the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In Washington, meanwhile, British Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald is trying to repair the perceived damage done by Mr. Obama to the traditional special relationship between the two countries.

The two ambassadors are emphasizing that the ties have been reset, ironically, with the election of David Cameron, a Conservative Party prime minister who appears to have found a more receptive tone from the liberal president, who displayed what many analysts saw as chilly behavior with Gordon Brown, the former Labor Party prime minister.

Mr. Susman on Sunday told the BBCthat Mr. Obama meant no insult to the British people when he trashed BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, in several comments over the past weeks.

"President Obama and the administration would probably have said the same thing if it had been an American company," the ambassador said. "So, while it might seem a bit undiplomatic in terms of words, trust me, it had nothing to do with the fact it was British or American."

Mr. Obama angered many business executives and retirees whose pension plans include BP stock by saying he would have fired Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive officer, and suspended quarterly dividends for shareholders, the BBC reported.

Last year, Mr. Obama shocked many diplomatic observers when he gave Mr. Brown some classic American movies on video discs that would not operate on British DVD players. Mr. Brown had given Mr. Obama a desk pen set made from wood from the 19th-century sailing ship the HMS Gannet, which patrolled the Mediterranean to prevent the slave trade. Mr. Obama also returned a bust of Winston Churchill, displayed in the Oval Office,to the British Embassy.

Mr. Susman said Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Cameron by telephone on Saturday in a "very warm conversation" that touched on a "multitude" of issues, including the oil spill.

"When the issue of BP came up, they were both agreed: It's an ecological disaster," the ambassador said. "BP has to do everything possible to stop the leak, accept responsibility, and the president made it very clear that he has no intention of trying to hurt the financial viability of BP. That would be the last thing we want."

However, Mr. Susman's assurances failed to convince Mr. Obama's critics. Norman Tebbit, a former Conservative Party chairman, accused Mr. Obama of a "xenophobic display of partisan political presidential petulance against a multinational company."

London Mayor Boris Johnson warned about "the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating from America."

The British ambassador last week traveled to the College of William & Mary in the former Colonial capital of Williamsburg, Va., to tout the strength of the U.S.-British relationship.

"Our partnership with the United States will remain a cornerstone of our foreign policy," Mr. Sheinwald said, noting that Britain has more than 10,000 troops supporting the United States in Afghanistan.

He said Britain and the United States "stand united, fundamentally, because we are both the stronger for it." He added that Mr. Obama referred to the "extraordinary special relationship" when he called Mr. Cameron to congratulate him on his victory last month.

"But it is not a relationship that is trapped in the past," Mr. Sheinwald said. "Each generation on both sides of the Atlantic has refreshed and renewed it.

"The British-American relationship — with its complex historical, cultural, economic and political roots — transcends the generations and political parties."

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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