Soaring oil prices prompt talk of turning on the taps

US visit ends with the two leaders trading political favours – and a visit to Ground Zero

New York

As the Prime Minster, David Cameron, wound up his three-day official visit to the United States in New York, details emerged of a possible plan to for the two nations to co-ordinate a release of strategic oil reserves to counter the current increases in prices which threaten the economic recovery – and Barack Obama's re-election hopes.

The discussions in the Oval Office on Wednesday were prompted by the rise in oil prices due in part to instability in three major producing nations – Iran, Syria and Sudan. Officials cautioned, however, that no strategy was settled upon and it could be months before final decisions were made. Some European countries have voiced reluctance to take such a step. The last time reserves were tapped was during the unrest in Libya.

Rising petrol pump prices have emerged as a dangerous problem for Mr Obama, whose hopes of a second term largely rest on the state of the US economy. And although no agreement was reached, Mr Cameron yesterday said: "We are all facing the problem of higher oil prices and that translates into the cost of filling up the family car, which is very high here in the US but frankly even higher in the UK."

It was another sign of the two men trading political favours. There was also word that during a discussion of the dispute between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands, Mr Obama said his administration would desist from prodding the two to hold talks, as Buenos Aires has requested, and remain neutral on the issue as it has in the past. The State Department recently said it would like the two countries to accept UN mediation.

The Prime Minister's third and final day of his US tour began with a visit to Ground Zero, which took on a personal air when Mr Cameron's wife, Samantha, was overheard recalling 9/11 when she was in Manhattan opening a branch of the Smythson stationery chain.

"The memories of that day will stay with me forever," she said. "I just couldn't believe it had happened and to see the aftermath and the effect on the city was just so shocking. I often think about the people who died and their families – I am glad I have been able to come and pay my respects properly today."

In the past, Mr Cameron has spoken of his own anguish on 9/11, when he was unable for hours to reach his wife. "I'll never forget the hours of ringing her mobile over and over again and not being able to get through because the mobile phone system was down," he has said. "I remember exactly where I was when I finally did get through and how pleased I was to hear her voice."

In a whirl of stops in the New York area, Mr Cameron went first to Newark, a blighted city across the Hudson River that has seen some success in economic regeneration under its current mayor Cory Booker. Visiting a café which has benefited from regeneration funds, Mr Cameron paid tribute to the city's efforts. He said Newark was a lesson on how elected mayors can have an impact.

"This is an example of a city that has suffered great deprivation in the past," the Prime Minster commented. "It really shows what real city leadership can do and a strong city mayor can do to turn a city around. I want us in the UK to have many more mayors in our great cities. We need that sort of leadership in the UK."

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