David Cameron and Barack Obama are “close partners,” the White House said late Thursday after the U.S. president appeared to criticize Britain’s prime minister for his actions over Libya. A spokesman for the White House told BBC in an emailed statement that the U.S. “deeply” valued the U.K.’s contributions.
In an interview in the Atlantic magazine’s April issue, Obama said that Cameron became “distracted” after the 2011 intervention in Libya, after joining the American-led military action to protect rebels from massacre by the now-toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Following Obama’s comments, the White House reaffirmed America’s special relationship with Britain.
“Prime Minister Cameron has been as close a partner as the president has had, and we deeply value the UK's contributions on our shared national security and foreign policy objectives which reflect our special and essential relationship,” the White House said, in the statement, BBC reported. “With respect to Libya, the president has long said that all of us — including the United States — could have done more in the aftermath of the Libyan intervention.”
According to BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel, the voluntary statement given by the White House suggested that Downing Street had reacted angrily to the article in the Atlantic.
In his interview, Obama reflected on “what went wrong” during the intervention, which was led by the U.K. and France.
“There’s room for criticism, because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya's proximity, being invested in the follow-up,” Obama said, adding that Cameron became “distracted by a range of other things.”
Obama also criticized former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, saying that he tried to claim the spotlight during the crisis.
Sarkozy “wanted to trumpet the flights he was taking in the air campaign, despite the fact that we had wiped out all the air defenses and essentially set up the entire infrastructure” for the intervention, Obama said, adding that the intervention “averted large-scale civilian casualties (and) prevented what almost surely would have been a prolonged and bloody civil conflict.”
However, Obama added that “despite all that, Libya is a mess.”
The U.S. president spoke about “free riders,” saying that European and Gulf countries were calling for action against Gadhafi, whose removal led to instability in Libya.
“But what has been a habit over the last several decades in these circumstances is people pushing us to act but then showing an unwillingness to put any skin in the game,” Obama said.
Downing Street reportedly issued a statement, saying that Britain was still “working hard” in Libya.
“We agree that there are still many difficult challenges in Libya but, as the PM has said many times before, coming to the aid of innocent civilians who were being tortured and killed by their leader was the right thing to do,” Downing Street reportedly said, adding that U.K. had “sought to support the people of Libya” and was still “working hard to support the U.N.-led process to establish a stable and inclusive government.”