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The meeting came the morning after Mr. Obama vowed to an angry nation that “we will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused.”

The crisis began with a deep water well that blew out on April 20, killing 11 rig workers and triggering the spill.

Mr. Obama in his speech to the nation on Tuesday night backed creation of a fund administered by an independent trustee to pay damages and clean up costs associated with the spill.

For the president, the tough diplomacy with a few officials behind closed doors is a bookend to his attempt to reach millions at once. Using a delivery in which even the harshest words were uttered in subdued tones, Mr. Obama did not offer much in the way of new ideas or details in his speech. He mainly recapped the government’s efforts, insisted once again that BP will be held to account and tried to tap the resilience of a nation in promising that “something better awaits.”

Mr. Obama’s forceful tone about BP’s behavior shows how far matters have deteriorated. The White House once had described BP as an essential partner in plugging the crude oil spewing from the broken well beneath nearly a mile of water. Now Mr. Obama says BP has threatened to destroy a whole way of life.

An Associated Press-GfK poll released Tuesday showed 52 percent now disapprove of Mr. Obama’s handling of the oil spill, up significantly from last month. Most people — 56 percent — think the government’s actions in response to the disaster really haven’t had any impact on the situation.

Associated Press writer Harry Weber in Houston and Kenneth Thomas, Martin Crutsinger and Darlene Superville and Jennifer Loven in Washington contributed to this story.