Britons: Obama Is Unnecessarily Hostile To BP

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A new poll finds that both Americans and Britons consider the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to be BP's fault. Still, many Britons feel personally insulted by American complaints about the company, with its strong British identity and influence on the UK economy.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Most Americans and Britons blame BP for the oil spill in the Gulf - 60 percent of both countries, according to a recent opinion poll. Still, many Britons feel President Obama has been unnecessarily hostile to BP. Vicki Barker sampled British opinion in London.

VICKI BARKER: If you want to take the throbbing pulse of British public opinion, pull into this BP station on the A4, the main traffic artery linking London to points west. Over at pump number five, Portuguese-born Briton, Ivo Derorenoe(ph), says he was never part of what seemed at times to be a national love affair with Barack Obama. Now, he accuses the U.S. president of demonizing BP to score cheap political points.

Mr. IVO DERORENOE: The rhetoric is just too much. He is just like another politician: nothing great.

BARKER: Nearby, London-born cab driver Bob Liggon(ph) pours water into the radiator of his overheating black taxi. His indignation embraces not just America's president, but its people too. He smells hypocrisy in the air, he says.

Mr. BOB LIGGON (Cab Driver): Well, just - they're the largest consumers of oil in the world. They bow and (unintelligible) to the oil companies all the time and they don't stand up to these people. And when something goes wrong on their shores, then it's someone else - it's, you know.

BARKER: On the other side of London, the analysts at public opinion research organization YouGov say their figures bear out that gas pump straw poll. YouGov's Lawrence Janta-Lipinski.

Mr. LAWRENCE JANTA-LIPINSKI (YouGov): We've seen a large drop in favorability, not only towards Obama but also the United States in general. In the previous five weeks, seen a jump from 30 percent of people who were unfavorable, up to 40 percent now.

BARKER: AS far as Mr. Obama goes, his first offense was to refer to BP as British Petroleum. Since the company hasn't use that name in years, many here thought he was being anti-British. Then, when the president likened the spill to 9/11, he seemed by inference to be comparing the oil giant to al-Qaida.

Nearly 500 British troops have died in the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan - the highest Western casualty levels after America's itself. So, many Britons found Mr. Obama's analogy offensive and hurtful.

The chill reaches up into the corridors of power. Here's Eric Pickles, a Cabinet minister in the new Conservative-led government on a recent BBC program.

Mr. ERIC PICKLES (Cabinet Minister): We need to ensure that the oil is dispersed and we need to ensure that the well is blocked. And that is not going to be achieved by seeing this as some kind of nationalistic game.

BARKER: David Cameron makes his first prime ministerial visit to Washington next month. The men's first face-to-face encounter as leaders will take place at the G8 Summit in Canada later this week.

On the broader geopolitical canvas, the president and the prime minister remain allies on the backfield in Afghanistan and in the diplomatic battle to curtail Iran's nuclear program. But at the same time, each is under strong domestic pressure to be seen to be standing up to the other over the spill and BP's role in it.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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