June 12, 2010 / 1:10 PM / 9 years ago

WRAPUP 4-BP must meet economic claims, Obama says

* Obama says BP must pay tens of thousands of claims

* UK PM stresses importance of BP to UK, U.S. and others

* U.S. coastguard tells BP to boost containment strategy

* BP examines options on dividend, board to meet Monday

(Adds fresh comment from Obama, report on U.S. states)

By Jeffrey Jones and Keith Weir

BURAS, La./ LONDON, June 12 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama told British Prime Minister David Cameron on Saturday that he will insist BP pays clean-up costs and meets economic claims from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Obama also said his frustration with BP was not about national identity after criticism from some in Britain that his rhetoric had taken on an anti-British tone.

Millions of gallons of oil have poured into the Gulf since an April 20 offshore rig blast killed 11 workers and ruptured BP’s deep-sea well, causing an ecological disaster along the southern coast of the United States.

The two leaders discussed the issue in a 30-minute phone call on Saturday. A statement from Cameron’s office said Obama had said he had no interest in undermining the value of BP, which has lost tens of billions of dollars from its market value during the crisis.

However, a senior U.S. administration official said Obama had delivered a tough message on BP’s obligations.

“(Obama) said BP must meet its obligations to those whose lives have been disrupted and we will insist everything be done to cap the well, capture the oil, and pay for the clean-up, the environmental damage done and the tens of thousands of economic claims as a result of this disaster,” the official said.

BP expects the total bill for the clean-up to be $3-$6 billion, an anlayst briefed by the company said on Friday.

Cameron, who took office last month, has come under pressure to do more to protect a company that accounts for 12 percent of all dividends paid by British companies.

“The Prime Minister stressed the economic importance of BP to the UK, U.S. and other countries. The President made clear that he had no interest in undermining BP’s value,” Cameron’s office said in a statement.

DIVIDEND SUSPENSION?

BP said it was considering suspending its dividend payments after U.S. politicians said it should pay all damage claims before making payouts to shareholders. Suspension would hit British pension funds hard and has prompted angry headlines in Britain.

BP said the company’s board would meet on Monday to discuss a range of issues — it has been meeting weekly since the crisis started.

However, a source said a decision on the dividend may not be made until after BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg has met Obama on Wednesday.

A U.S. Coast Guard official had told BP the company’s plans to contain the spill do not go far enough or contain enough back-up measures, it emerged on Saturday.

“BP must identify in the next 48 hours additional leak containment capacity that could be operationalized and expedited,” Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Watson said in a letter to BP dated June 11.

U.S. states along the Gulf of Mexico are increasing demands for financial compensation from BP as the spill continues to spread along their shorelines, slamming the tourism and fishing industries, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

State officials say they are feeling the effects, both environmentally and financially, and that they need much more than what BP is offering to recover lost wages and taxes.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum sent a letter to BP on Thursday requesting that the company deposit $2.5 billion into an escrow account to cover potential losses, the Journal reported. The spreading spill likely represents “a staggering blow” to the state’s economy and has seriously hurt local tourism and fishing, McCollum wrote. (Additional reporting by Tom Bergin in London and Jeff Masoon in Washington, Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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