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Over dinner, senators press Cameron on Lockerbie bomber

British Prime Minister David Cameron was quite clear in saying Tuesday afternoon that he has no intention of initiating a new British investigation in the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi, but four senators pressed him for concessions Tuesday evening, including asking him to make British officials available for a coming congressional hearing on ...

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British Prime Minister David Cameron was quite clear in saying Tuesday afternoon that he has no intention of initiating a new British investigation in the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi, but four senators pressed him for concessions Tuesday evening, including asking him to make British officials available for a coming congressional hearing on the issue.

The request puts Cameron in a difficult position. The British public is already upset that its new government is seeming to play into speculation that BP had some role in lobbying for the release of Megrahi, who was released last year to Libya for health reasons but has stubbornly refused to die.

Cameron said Tuesday afternoon, while standing next to President Obama at the White House, that the Scottish Parliament had already completed an investigation and that London had already released reams of information on the case. He pledged to direct his government to go back and see if there wasn’t any more information that could be made available.

"I’m not currently minded that we need to have a UK-based inquiry on this — partly for this reason:  I don’t need an inquiry to tell me what was a bad decision," he said. "It was a bad decision."

But that’s not quite good enough for Sens. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Kirstin Gillibrand, D-NY, who met Cameron at the home of British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald Tuesday evening.

In an interview Tuesday, Menendez told The Cable just before the meeting that he would continue to press Cameron to make British officials available for a coming Senate hearing that would examine the British government’s involvement and any possible interactions with BP regarding Megrahi’s release.

"We certainly appreciate the cooperation and hopefully the cooperation will be manifested by helping us getting the right witnesses that we are asking for," Menendez said. "I am disappointed that where he has the ability to look at what transpired with the British government’s interaction with the Scottish and Libyan governments, that he would be in the best position to get to the truth."

Menendez, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that senators’ concerns over the case trumped any worry that focusing on the issue could harm U.S.-UK relations.

"This is beyond our bilateral relationship with the British; this is a question of what messaging do we want to send to terrorists. Do we want to tell them you can kill Americans and others and at the end of the day still get out of jail? That’s the wrong message," he said.

CNN reported that the meeting lasted for 45 minutes and that no pledges or promises by Cameron were made. Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, told The Cable that the hearing has been scheduled for next week.

Cameron had several meetings on Capitol Hill Tuesday: one with Sens. John McCain, R-AZ, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and another with Kerry and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, chairwoman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on Europe.

Shaheen told The Cable that she asked Cameron about British interest in EU enlargement, specifically for countries in the western Balkans.

"He confirmed that he is a very big proponent of enlargement. It’s been good for Britain and he will continue to support that," she said.

NSC spokesman Mike Hammer said before Cameron’s meeting with Obama that the two leaders’ hour-long one-on-one session would predominantly focus on the situation in Afghanistan. Cameron said that Britain could begin pulling out troops next year, based on conditions on the ground, and promised there would not be a large British troop presence by 2015.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was quite clear in saying Tuesday afternoon that he has no intention of initiating a new British investigation in the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi, but four senators pressed him for concessions Tuesday evening, including asking him to make British officials available for a coming congressional hearing on the issue.

The request puts Cameron in a difficult position. The British public is already upset that its new government is seeming to play into speculation that BP had some role in lobbying for the release of Megrahi, who was released last year to Libya for health reasons but has stubbornly refused to die.

Cameron said Tuesday afternoon, while standing next to President Obama at the White House, that the Scottish Parliament had already completed an investigation and that London had already released reams of information on the case. He pledged to direct his government to go back and see if there wasn’t any more information that could be made available.

"I’m not currently minded that we need to have a UK-based inquiry on this — partly for this reason:  I don’t need an inquiry to tell me what was a bad decision," he said. "It was a bad decision."

But that’s not quite good enough for Sens. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Kirstin Gillibrand, D-NY, who met Cameron at the home of British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald Tuesday evening.

In an interview Tuesday, Menendez told The Cable just before the meeting that he would continue to press Cameron to make British officials available for a coming Senate hearing that would examine the British government’s involvement and any possible interactions with BP regarding Megrahi’s release.

"We certainly appreciate the cooperation and hopefully the cooperation will be manifested by helping us getting the right witnesses that we are asking for," Menendez said. "I am disappointed that where he has the ability to look at what transpired with the British government’s interaction with the Scottish and Libyan governments, that he would be in the best position to get to the truth."

Menendez, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that senators’ concerns over the case trumped any worry that focusing on the issue could harm U.S.-UK relations.

"This is beyond our bilateral relationship with the British; this is a question of what messaging do we want to send to terrorists. Do we want to tell them you can kill Americans and others and at the end of the day still get out of jail? That’s the wrong message," he said.

CNN reported that the meeting lasted for 45 minutes and that no pledges or promises by Cameron were made. Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, told The Cable that the hearing has been scheduled for next week.

Cameron had several meetings on Capitol Hill Tuesday: one with Sens. John McCain, R-AZ, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and another with Kerry and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, chairwoman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on Europe.

Shaheen told The Cable that she asked Cameron about British interest in EU enlargement, specifically for countries in the western Balkans.

"He confirmed that he is a very big proponent of enlargement. It’s been good for Britain and he will continue to support that," she said.

NSC spokesman Mike Hammer said before Cameron’s meeting with Obama that the two leaders’ hour-long one-on-one session would predominantly focus on the situation in Afghanistan. Cameron said that Britain could begin pulling out troops next year, based on conditions on the ground, and promised there would not be a large British troop presence by 2015.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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