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Britons Bristle At American Attacks On BP

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Britons Bristle At American Attacks On BP


Britons Bristle At American Attacks On BP

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Shares in BP rose on the London Stock Exchange today - that, despite reports that the company's second-quarter dividend will be suspended. BP had been under pressure from the Obama administration to make such a move and use the funds to intensify cleanup in the Gulf. But many people in Britain have bristled at some of the attacks on BP coming out of Washington, saying the tone has become distinctly anti-British.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

ROB GIFFORD: How is this for a line from London in response to President Obama's criticisms of BP: A crude, bigoted, xenophobic display of partisan, political, presidential petulance?

Thats not just some over caffeinated British blogger. It's Lord Tebbit, Margaret Thatcher's deputy. He was expressing the views of what many across the pond here says is an attempt by President Obama to keep U.S. anger focused away from his administration and on BP and its English CEO, Tony Hayward.

One of Britain's top business leaders, John Napier, has written an open letter to President Obama to complain.

Mr. JOHN NAPIER (Chairman, RSA): The language and rhetoric of this dispute is going to the danger zone, it was becoming too highly personalized. The interpretation over here, not just by me but others, is that it has a certain anti-British rhetoric to it and that has to be of concern.

GIFFORD: Various experts here have pointed out that BP is, in fact, a huge multinational with many assets and employees in the United States, but American companies were also implicated in the oil spill.

Simon Boxall works at Britain's National Oceanography Center.

Dr. SIMON BOXALL (Physical Oceanographer, National Oceanography Center): This well is actually owned and operated by and American company, Transocean. The operations going on at the time when the incident happened and Halliburton was an American come, and the blowout preventer that failed was American, as well. And don't forget, this oil is for the domestic U.S. market.

GIFFORD: Other commentators and bloggers have picked up on that point. You want the oil, America, asked one? You clean up the mess.

GIFFORD: The British government's response so far has been much more measured. Speaking on a visit to Afghanistan, new Prime Minister David Cameron said he understood the U.S. government's frustration over the spill. But then the famously jingoistic Daily Mail newspaper ran a front-page headline that read: Stand up for your country, Mr. Cameron.

The mood was heightened further by suggestions from Washington that BP should suspend its dividend to shareholders; some news outlets here say that will be announced next week. Since major British and some U.S. pension funds are heavily invested in BP, politicians such as the Labour Party's Tom Watson haven't taken kindly to the suggestion.

Mr. TOM WATSON (Member of Parliament): Prime Minister David Cameron is in Afghanistan to show solidarity with our American allies for the work we're doing over there. I hope that he demands that solidarity back for British pensioners and U.S. pensioners.

GIFFORD: Not everyone here is up in arms though about the rhetoric from Washington. Michael Howard is the former leader of the British Conservative Party.

Mr. MICHAEL HOWARD (Former Leader, Conservative Party): We need to bear in mind - we on this side of the Atlantic - just what we would feel like if an American company had been responsible for the biggest oil spill in our history, and had admitted that there were shortcomings in the way in which it had planned its operations, as BP pretty well has, I think we would be pretty cross with that American company.

GIFFORD: The White House has invited BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg to meet with senior Obama administration officials next Wednesday. British Prime Minister David Cameron is due to speak to President Obama over the weekend.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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