BP bosses attend crunch talks with Obama

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BP bosses were attending crunch talks with US President Barack Obama today amid growing anger in Washington over the handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The oil giant's chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg and under-fire chief executive Tony Hayward were among the BP delegation seen entering the White House ahead of what is expected to be a heated meeting.

Yesterday Mr Obama used his first televised address from the Oval Office to accuse the company of recklessness and said he would order it to set up a fund to compensate victims.

He has previously expressed a desire to find out whose "ass to kick" at BP over the spill, which has led to the region's worst ever environmental disaster.

Prime Minister David Cameron today insisted that the company must be given "certainty" about the potential liabilities it faces.

Interviewed on BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show, Mr Cameron said he and Mr Obama had agreed during a phone conversation at the weekend that securing BP's future was important to both countries.

"My job absolutely is to make clear that this is an important company and, as I discussed with the president, that while it is important that they pay reasonable claims - BP accept this themselves - they do need a level of certainty," the PM said.

"This is BP's worry, the (need for a) level of certainty that there won't be claims entertained that are three, four times removed from the oil spill."

Today's White House meeting comes a day after the beleaguered firm's debt rating was slashed by a credit agency to near-junk status.

Fitch's second downgrade for BP in less than two weeks leaves the blue-chip stock rated at BBB, the agency's lowest investment grade.

Scientists said far more oil was spewing into the Gulf than previously thought and US politicians called on BP to place up to 20 billion US dollars (£13.5 billion) into a special account to deal with damage claims.

Fitch said the company's estimate of clean-up and claims had soared to up to six billion dollars (£4.1 billion), while fines could be as high as eight billion dollars (£5.4 billion).

Meanwhile long-term claims over the spill could drag on for years following the pattern of the Exxon Valdez spill, the ratings agency added.

The cut to BBB will raise the cost of the firm's borrowing as investors demand higher returns for the increased risk.

Video: Obama says BP will pay

The firm's shares, which have slumped by almost half since the crisis began two months ago when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank with the loss of 11 lives, fell another 4% to 342p yesterday.

By the time BP bosses entered the White House today, shares had slipped a further 2%.

And there is likely to be no respite for BP in the coming days.

Tomorrow Mr Hayward - who has taken the brunt of the criticism levelled at the firm so far and made a series of press blunders - faces a stormy grilling in Congress.