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QUEST MEANS BUSINESS

Obama Meets With BP Execs; Ken Feinberg to Head Gulf Claims Fund

Aired June 16, 2010 - 14:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


RICHARD QUEST, HOST, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: A $20-billion disaster fund, BP gives in to President Obama's demands.

The pain in Spain, never mind the football, today its about jobs.

And arrested for that marketing stunt, South African police wade in for World Cup sponsors.

I'm Richard Quest. We have a busy time ahead, because I mean business.

Good evening.

Tonight BP seems set to agree a $20 billion pot of money to cover the cost of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. The escrow fund is in intended to pay for the clean up costs and damage claims resulting from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The fund will not be controlled by BP it is believed to be controlled by Kenneth Feinberg, who is the lawyer who ran the compensation fund for the victims of 9/11.

News of this agreement emerged just before President Obama met BP's top executives, including the Chairman Carl Henric-Svanberg, and the Chief Exec Tony Hayward. The president's position is that BP must cover the full cost of the spill, as he made clear on Tuesday night when we addressed the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Make no mistake, we will fight this spill with everything we've got, for as long as it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has cost. And we will do whatever is necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recovery from this tragedy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUEST: Now the meeting between president and company is still underway at the White House in Washington. Mr. Obama had been expected to make a statement by now, but we understand that it could happen anytime in this hour. And you need to know that, of course, if and when he speaks, at the White House, we will bring that to you live.

On the corporate front, shares in BP continued their slide. The stock lost another 1.5 percent on the day since April 2, when the explosion destroyed the Deepwater Horizon, BP shares have almost halved in value. The ADR, the American depository receipts, as they are known, are down. Currently, up a little over 1 percent. And the important thing about the ADRs is, of course, they are a reflection of the underlying stock price, which is traded primarily in the U.K.

To Washington now, and the latest on the meeting with the BP execs. Suzanne Malveaux joins me from inside the White House.

Suzanne, was there surprise that Tony Hayward, the chief exec, turned up? We knew that the chairman was coming. But we had always-I mean, we thought Mr. Hayward might be persona non grata.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Actually it wasn't a complete surprise here, Richard. Because what happened was it was Admiral Thad Allen who, as you know, has regular conversations with Tony Hayward and some of the other officials, invited them to the White House for one of their kind of regular briefings if you will in the Roosevelt Room. And that is how they got them to the White House, and essentially they were saying, yes, well, the president and the vice president are going to stop by in this meeting and participate in part of the meeting.

What unfolded was quite different, because the president was supposed to stay about 20 minutes, or so. Stayed for that duration and then came back again, circled back around to see if there was some progress that was made. It was a meeting that was slated to last two hours. We're not exactly sure how long it has lasted because we haven't seen the president or BP officials emerge yet. So, it has pretty much been extended.

And there are a couple of reasons for that. You should know that they had a preliminary kind of agreement about the escrow fund before going into this meeting. We had gotten a kind of a heads up on that from David Axelrod, one of the senior advisors to the president, saying, Look, you know, there has been a lot of tough talk about holding BP accountable. But BP has been cooperating when it comes to this idea of setting aside a fund for claims for damages for some of the victims of this oil spill disaster.

What some of the things that they are negotiating are the fine points. One of those fine points being who was going to be the independent party that would actually administer that fund, make sure that it was in good hands. We now know that that is Kenneth Feinberg, he is the one that you mentioned before, who handled the compensation fund for the victims of the 9/11 terrorists attacks. Another really important thing here, Richard, what they are negotiating, is the figure. We know that the preliminary figure here is $20 billion; that that would be set aside over the course of several years. BP would put that money aside to help out the victims.

QUEST: Right.

MALVEAUX: But several senior administration officials have been telling me that a point of contention, a point of debate, is that a down payment? Is that a final figure? What happens if you find out that the damages are so much more than $20 billion? I have gotten assurances from at least two people involved in the negotiations, representing the administration's side, that that is not the final number. That if they are more damages and if this is a lot costlier they are going to go back and revisit that figure and put more into that pot. And that is one of the things that they have been talking about behind closed doors.

QUEST: The mere fact that they are all in the same room, at the same time, many in America will perhaps wonder what took them so long to get to this stage, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: That is absolutely right. There are a lot of people who have openly questioned, and criticized, the president and the administration, looking at this and saying two months into this, really? You are just meeting with these top execs here at the White House?

White House officials counter by saying that the go-between and the point man here, Admiral Thad Allen, has been in constant communication with BP execs from the very beginning. And so they didn't necessarily feel that it was necessary that the president have a face-to-face sit down. There has been a lot of pressure about this. Obviously, this is what has come out of it. Is the president has sat down with them, as well as the vice president. This is a deal that they have been working on, but we're told that the president was not the mediator, he was not the negotiator in all of this.

QUEST: Right.

MALVEAUX: They had a team of lawyers that we saw, that were accompanying the BP execs, as well as White House counsel, that were sitting down there, hammering out those fine points, but points that are really critical when it comes to how much money we're talking about and who is in charge of how this is going to be distributed.

QUEST: I suspect, Suzanne, that you get the prize tonight for understatement, when calling it a team of lawyers. I suspect behind the scenes, there is army of lawyers on both sides thrashing it out.

MALVEAUX: There's a lot of people involved here.

QUEST: Suzanne, absolutely. And there will be more before we're finished.

Suzanne, look, we believe the president is going to speak in 20 minutes, or so. We'll be back in Washington hopefully to take that live.

MALVEAUX: Excellent.

QUEST: Suzanne Malveaux, at the White House for us tonight.

As Suzanne was talking there about the role that President Obama now faces, that difficult position, he must act and clearly now, be seen to act by the American people; much of that, of course, we saw last night in the first Oval Office address. But one man who understands what it is like to be in that hot seat when a national crisis becomes political, is Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr. Blair told me that both parties probably believe, far from disagreeing, Britain and America, the priority is, get this thing fixed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY BLAIR, FMR. PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN: Well, I think the reality, Richard, is that for America and for people particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, this is a catastrophe. It is not a crisis, it is a catastrophe. And so unsurprisingly, the president, the administration, everybody is focused on getting it fixed and getting the job done. So it is not surprising that feelings run high, but I actually think that people realize that of course BP is doing everything it possibly can to fix this. And this is a situation where, and you know, I've been in these types of situations when I was prime minister, where there is enormous pressure on everybody involved. And the most important thing is to get it fixed. And I know that is what people who have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to do.

QUEST: Once we have accepted that everybody wants to fix it, that of course, is one thing that everybody can agree upon, Mr. Blair. But it is when you start talking and the current Prime Minister David Cameron puts one point of view, but the president puts another point of view, and suddenly best will goes out of the window. And you do end up, as you say, you have seen yourself, in very heated words.

BLAIR: You can do. But I think-you know, David Cameron and Barack Obama have got the same interest in this, in that is get it sorted. And the sooner it is sorted the better and that is what people will work on. So, you know, there is bound to be, in a situation like this where, you know, if you are living down in the Gulf of Mexico, and you are seeing your livelihood destroyed, I mean, you are going to be angry. You are going to be putting pressure on your representatives, your representatives will be putting pressure on the president.

You know, the president of the United States of America, with a situation like this, when he has just made his first address to the nation from the White House; he's going to be having to deal with a enormous political as well as technical challenge here. So, feelings are bound to run high. But I actually think if you study carefully both what the president is saying, what the British prime minister is saying. They've both got the same interests. Get it fixed. Get it fixed as quickly as possible.

QUEST: There is a commentator that suggests bring in Blair as chairman of BP. Now, the job is not up for grabs at the moment, but on the off chance that it was up for grabs, Mr. Blair, would you take it?

BLAIR: No, I don't-I think the solution is actually to get this thing fixed. I mean, this-look, in a situation like this and I remember dealing with-I had a crisis which you will remember, the foot & mouth disease in the U.K. And it is one of these appalling, terrible things that happens, one of these events that comes upon and administration, any administration, anywhere in the world, these things can happen. And the only answer in the end is to roll up your sleeves and get the thing done. And it is not a question of personnel, or this individual, or that individual. You have got to settle down and just get the job done.

And this is speculation about what happens to the chairman or the chief executive, all of that, in my view, you know, you can leave all of that for another time. What is important right now is just roll your sleeves up and getting it done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUEST: Some insight into when commerce meets politics and presidents meets prime minister, from the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Amid all the world leaders and industry executives talking ordinary people are wondering what is being done to save their livelihoods. On "WORLD ONE", which takes to our airways in 45 minutes from now, we'll hear from the thousands of people, or some of them, on the Gulf Coast who want answers. "WORLD ONE", Fionnuala Sweeney has that at 2000, London, 2100 Central European Time. Look, 45 minutes from now.

When rhetoric meets reality, if Spanish people want to fight unemployment, workers have to give up some of their legal protection. That is the measure of the government's proposals. We'll hear about that.

And a shaky start to Spain's World Cup campaign, what happened when they met Switzerland in the Economic World Cup?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

QUEST: Welcome back. We've heard all the talk about what European governments must do to get their finances under control, and their economies growing. Today we are seeing real action. France has proposed to raise its retirement age to lessen the cost of paying expensive pensions. The standard retirement age will now rise from 60 to 62. The Labor Minister Eric Woerth says the "reforms are imperative", his words. And defending the pension system is a moral obligation. Changes should save over $23 billion. But under the proposals they won't take effect for many years to come.

In Spain the cabinet put forward changes to employment laws in the face of opposition from the country's unions. Madrid's new measures are supposed to encourage employers to hire staff, because it makes it cheaper to let them go in the first place. Al Goodman is now live for us in Madrid.

Al, we know Spain has got this two or three tier system where full time employees are very protected. But that, of course, goes to the core of employment law in Spain.

AL GOODMAN, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, it does. And here is what this plan from the government, which is going to go into effect in the next few days, but it is also going to go to parliament to be debated, so it could be watered down. But here what the government says: 45 days per year worked, that the most protected workers get right now, when they are fired or laid off, 45 days per year worked. That is going to drop down to 33 days, and the government will pay eight of those days. So the company instead of paying 45 will be stuck paying 25 days. That is the sort of movement that the companies have been trying to say. They have been wailingly (ph) saying, we can't hire anybody on a fixed contract because it is too expensive to fire them.

So, but the unions have already called a general strike over this for late September. They say they don't want to do it right now, but they are going do it in September, Richard.

QUEST: There are two immovable forces here. An unemployment-oh, well, talk about immovable forces. We've had another one of those immovable forces, we seemed to have lost Al Goodman for the second. We are going to effort to get Al back. I believe we do have Al back.

Al, are you there? Ah, yes, there we are.

Al, there are two immovable forces here. On the one hand, unemployment rate of 20 percent, but if you get rid of these employment practices, the workers will suffer.

GOODMAN: Nothing is going to change right away. And what has happened in the recent years, and this help fuel this bonanza, over 15 years, there was a series of temporary contracts. So the two tiers, the two tiers really, Richard, are the protected workers and the temporary workers who don't really have very much. But the key of the question, according to many, including the former Prime Minister Filipe Gonzales, is the lack of competitiveness. Spain can't compete with the big players, Germany, France, because they are not giving value added quality, because they don't have a workforce that is turning over, that is constantly being trained. And so these are the problems that we're seeing, Richard.

QUEST: Al, please, stay where you are. Don't touch any buttons. Don't switch anything off, because we need you now to move from economics, or rather, finance, to the Economic World Cup.

At the World Cup in South Africa we saw the first game for Spain, who the experts apparently, had held down as a favorite to be world champions. Well, you wouldn't have known it from today's result.

(DESK BELL CHIMES)

A surprise win for Switzerland by a single, second half goal. Earlier, Chile beat Honduras, one-nil, in a Latin American affair. Switzerland and Chile out in front now in the group. That is what they are like on the football, but how do they measure up economically? So, as you can see we have Al, in Spain. We have our resident economic expert, Jim Boulden, here in the studio. So, let's start with you, Al. I mean, come on, Spain versus Switzerland! The bulls versus the cuckoo clocks, Spain should have won it?

GOODMAN: Absolutely, and this place was packed with thousands of people and there was a major fiesta before the game started. A huge deception, a major disappointment, as Spain lost one to nothing now. You know the Spanish economy, Richard, didn't have the high expectations of the Spanish team, but the fact that Spain lost, really does parallel the economy.

It is not performing. It is not meeting expectations. The beautiful game is not working for Spain anymore, that it had during the bonanza when the construction industry was building more new homes than Germany and France put together there, for a couple of years. Things are just off track, Richard.

QUEST: Jim, if we look at Switzerland?

JIM BOULDEN, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

QUEST: And the economic position for Switzerland there. I mean, maybe the football results did reflect the economics?

BOULDEN: For the first time since we started this, the first time, we have now had all the teams play matches, this is the first time we have the two winners also be the winners in the economic. Easily Chile outclasses Honduras in so many ways on the pitch, but also economically. And Switzerland, 4 percent unemployment, Spain 20 percent unemployment. Negligible budget deficit with one of the worst budget deficits in Spain, in all of the European Union.

QUEST: And if we go back to Al, it is a-I mean, economically, we have got to put economics back into this World Cup, because this really is the answer isn't it? It takes a moral tone, in a sense, on the Spanish people. Their economy is going down the toilet and they can't beat Switzerland.

GOODMAN: Well, there was so much hope riding on this. Now, they say Spain is not out of it. There are games to come. But many analysts are saying the prime minister put through these measures, this day, to make it cheaper to fire workers, precisely because he and everybody else here were expecting that Spain would win and that people would forget about the economy for the day and his tough measures, and they would just focus on football as the panacea. Well that didn't work either, Richard.

QUEST: Al Goodman, in Madrid. We'll be back with you, obviously on these other issues. Let's continue to look at, as you were saying, because the other one-this is another case where football has-it is hard to say who is leading. I say the Economic World Cup is leading-

BOULDEN: I do as well.

QUEST: Perhaps you can tell me why.

BOULDEN: Well, you have fantastic things going on in Chile. You know they just had their bond rating enhanced? They have had-OECD, they have just joined the OECD. So it is one of the fast growing economies in the world. You can see, here, strong growth. They have had to raise their interest rates because they have been doing very well.

QUEST: But hang on. Earthquake?

BOULDEN: Yes, believe it or not, in April, things-the economy did not suffer as much in the earthquake as people expected. Yes, very bad in March. And, yes, obviously it was devastating. Honduras, the second poorest country in Central America.

QUEST: So, even though a good will and a good spirit?

BOULDEN: Yes.

QUEST: There is no way, economically, Chile is going to loose to Honduras.

BOULDEN: Not at all. In fact, now the question is what happens when Switzerland plays Chile, because they both have three points.

QUEST: Then, of course, we will be looking at the economies.

BOULDEN: Exactly.

QUEST: All right. Many thanks, Jim. Many thanks, indeed. That is the way it happens now. We want to see how you are following your-the World Cup in your place, at work. This picture was sent to us. There you are. It is from a South African showing farmer workers celebrating the World Cup. When asked who would win, they said, either Brazil or South Africa. And I'm trying to find the name of the person. I think it is the name of the gentleman who sent us the picture. We'll find the name for you and we'll let you know what it is.

But if you would like to see your picture in this screen-and who wouldn't? Well, you know where to send it. Just send me the picture of you, your colleagues, your family, at work, during the World Cup, to Quest @ CNN.com. And we'll put it here. Or we might put it here. Or we might put it here. And if it is a really good picture, we'll put it there.

All right, when we come back in a moment. Play by FIFA's rules or you are not welcome here. That is the message in South Africa.

(DESK BELL CHIMES)

It is not for the footballers, but for the advertisers. I'll have that story for you, in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

QUEST: OK, welcome back now. I use it and possibly you use it, too. The Web site Trip Advisor is 10 years old this week. For a decade travelers have been using it to share their experiences of cities, hotels and restaurants, and to get the thoughts of people who have already been there. Ten years of Trip Advisor, it hardly seems likely. When the chief executive arrived I asked Steve Kaufer what his biggest fear was when it all started back in 2000.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVE KAUFER, FOUNDER, CEO, TRIP ADVISOR: My biggest fear at the time we started was that the people who would take the time to write a review would complain. And in fact that just turned out not to be the case at all. So, we have, at this point, 35 million reviews and opinions on the site. And that covers the spectrum of reviewing everything with all opinions, good, bad, and everything in between.

QUEST: Why do you think it was successful?

KAUFER: Because people really wanted to get the truth about where they were going. These are kind of precious leisure dollars that they are spending and they didn't want to trust the official Web site of a hotel, or what a travel agent may say to them.

QUEST: In doing that, your credibility became -

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUEST: And there we leave that interview for a moment. Let's go to the White House. President Obama is speaking.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED, IN PROGRESS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Henric Svanberg, and I raised two issues at the meeting. First was the containment of the oil that is still spewing into the Gulf. As I mentioned last night my administration has directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology and in the coming days and weeks these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil that is leaking out of the well. Now, that is not good enough. So we will continue to press BP and draw on our best minds and resources to capture the rest of the oil until the company finishes drilling a relief well later in the summer, that is expected to stop the leak completely.

The second topic revolved around the issue of claims. As I traveled across the Gulf, I heard growing frustration over the pace at which claims have been paid. And I also heard concerns about whether BP will make resources available to cover legitimate claims resulting from this disaster.

So this discussion today was essential. Currently, under federal law there is a $75 million cap on how much oil companies could under certain circumstances be required to pay for economic damages resulting from a spill such as this. That amount, obviously, would be insufficient. That is why I'm pleased to announce that BP has agreed to set aside $20 billion to pay claims for damages resulting from this spill. This $20 billion will provide substantial assurance that the claims people and businesses have will be honored (ph).

It is also important to emphasize this is not a cap. People of the Gulf have my commitment that BP will meet its obligations to them. BP has publicly pledged to make good on the claims that it owes to the people in the Gulf. And so the agreement we reached sets up a financial and legal framework to do it.

Another important element is that this $20 billion fund will not be controlled by either BP or by the government. It will be put in a escrow account, administered by an impartial, independent third party. So, if you or your business has suffered and economic loss as a result of this spill, you will be eligible to file a claim for part of this $20 billion. This fund does not supersede either individual's rights or states right to present claims in court.

BP will also continue to be the liable for the environmental disaster it has caused. And we are going to continue to work to make sure that they address it. Additionally, BP voluntarily agreed to establish a $100 million fund to compensate unemployed oil rig workers affected by the closure of the deepwater rigs.

We mutually agreed that Ken Feinberg will run the independent claims process we are putting in place. And there will be a three-person panel to adjudicate claims that are turned down. Every effort will be made to expedite these claims. Ken has long experience in such matters. Including running the fund that compensated the victims of 9/11. And I'm confident he will ensure that claims are administered as quickly, as fairly and as transparently as possible.

BP's liabilities for the spill are significant and they acknowledged that fact. We will continue to hold BP and all other responsible parties accountable and I'm absolutely confident BP will be able to meet its obligation to the Gulf Coast and to the American people.

BP is a strong and viable company and it is in all of our interests that it remains so. So what this is about is accountability. At the end of the day, that's what every American wants and expects.

The structure we're establishing today is an important step towards making the people of the Gulf Coast whole again. But it's not going to turn things around overnight and I want all Americans to know that I will continue to fight each and every day until the oil is contained, until businesses recover and until the Gulf Coast bounces back from this tragedy as I know it will.

One last point, during a private conversation with Chairman Svanberg, I emphasized to him that for the families that I met with down in the gulf, for the small business owners, for the fishermen, for the shrimpers, this is not just a matter of dollars and cents. That a lot of these folks don't have a cushion.

They were coming off Rita and Katrina, coming off the worst economy that this country's seen since the great depression and this season was going to be the season where they were going to be bouncing back. Not only that, but this happened, from their perspective, at the worst possible time.

Because they're making their entire income for the year in the three or four months during which folks can take their boats out, people are coming down for tourism. And so I emphasized to the chairman that when he's talking to shareholders, when he is in meetings in his boardroom, to keep in mind those individuals, that they are desperate, that some of them, if they don't get relief quickly, may lose businesses that have been in their families for two or three generations.

And the chairman assured me that he would keep them in mind. That's going to be the standard by which I measure BP's responsiveness. I think today was a good start and it should provide some assurance to some of the small business owners and individuals down in the gulf who I was visiting with that BP is going to meet its responsibilities.

But I indicated to the chairman that throughout this process, as we work to make sure that the gulf is made whole once again, that the standard I'm going to be applying is whether or not those individuals I met with, their family members, those communities that are vulnerable, whether they are uppermost in the minds of all concerned, that's who we're doing this work for. Thank you very much, everybody.

QUEST: So, President Obama there with a statement. And it's worth us just taking a second or two, if I may, to just go through some of the essential points.

Confirmed, BP is to set up a $20 billion escrow account to pay -- substantial assurance that they will pay all claims.

Confirmed, that BP will set up a voluntary $100 million account to pay for oil rig workers' salaries who have been laid off.

Confirmed, that the escrow account will be monitored by Ken Feinberg, who is the independent third party, neither responsible to BP nor to the -- nor to the U.S. government.

But interestingly, a very different tone from the U.S. president. He also said the $20 billion was not a cap, that they had publicly pledged that they would meet whatever cost was necessary. And this is when it gets different to what we've heard before from President Obama.

He went on to say that -- that it had been a constructive start. He acknowledged BP -- he was confident that BP would meet their obligations. And also, he reminded everybody, the American people, as well, that a strong, viable BP was in everybody's interests and in everybody's interests that it remains so.

And, finally, President Obama set up the test by which he would judge BP's actions, referring to a private conversation with Carl Svanberg, the chairman of BP, in which he basically said the president's test would be whether or not BP had those people in the Gulf as their prime and most important priority. Families, he said, the chairman would be -- would there be the death day of those families are desperate and would they be at the forefront of BP's considerations and policies.

The share price in BP continued to slide in London, where the stock lost another 1.5 percent. Since April the 2nd, when an explosion destroyed the rig, Deepwater Horizon, exploded, BP's shares have almost halved in value. The ADRs that trade on the New York exchanges are down in New York tonight. They're currently off by a little over 1 percent.

Now, at the moment, let me show you what's happening at the White House. This is the -- the door to the West Wing, where we are currently awaiting those chairmen the chairmen and the chief executive. We're waiting for BP executives. I had hoped that you were seeing those pictures, but -- yes, there you are. That's the White House itself and to the side of it, you can see the West Wing, where the chairmen and -- there we are.

Any time now, we will expect to see the chief executive and the chairman of BP, who will obviously give their take on it.

It is worth noting -- it is worth noting that, you know, read -- you don't have to read between the lines of what the president said to actually see that BP has pretty much said all those things many times, that it would honor all legitimate claims and would make the Gulf Coast whole.

But the change in tone today comes from, perhaps, President Obama, who acknowledges now BP's position and is prepared to put $20 billion into an escrow account administered by a third party.

All right, you're up to date on what that development is.

We'll break in when there is the -- the chief executive to bring you, in a moment.

Let's take a break.

Ah, no, we won't.

Stay with me.

I've just been told -- it just shows you, you pays your money, you takes your choice. Just as well you didn't leave me.

Let's go to Washington.

These are -- that's the chairman on the right, the chief executive on the left. They're going to address us on what their agreement was.

CARL-HENRIC SVANBERG, CHAIRMAN, BP: Ladies and gentlemen, we have had a very constructive meeting today with the president. We appreciate his deep concern - and we appreciate the deep concern that he feels for the people in the region and you could hear on his speech today his frustration.

I trust also that we, through the meeting, that the president sensed the sadness and the sorrow that we feel for this tragic accident that should never have happened. BP has always met our obligations and responsibilities and we have made clear from the first moment of this tragedy that we will live up to all our legitimate responsibilities.

We have agreed today with the president a framework that should assure the American people that we mean what we say. We will look after the people affected and we will repair the damage to this region, the environmental damage to this region and to the economy.

We are announcing today, as you heard from the president, a $20 billion commitment to make sure that all appropriate claims are handled swiftly and fairly. We have also announced an independent adjudicator that will make sure that the right people will get the right money at the right time.

The BP board has today decided that we will not pay any further dividends this year. We made it clear to the president that words are not enough. We understand that we will and we should be judged by our actions. What has been clear today is that this administration and our company are fully aligned in our interest of closing this well, cleaning the beaches and care for those that are affected.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the American people. On behalf of all the employees in BP, many of whom are living on the Gulf Coast and I do thank you for the patience that you have in this difficult time. Through our actions and commitments, we hope that over the long term we will regain the trust that you have in us. Thanks a lot and I will take a couple of questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to resign from BP?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did BP take safety shortcuts on the deepwater rigs?

SVANBERG: We are going through a series of investigations and we and the board -- we will do our own independent investigation where we will scrutinize everything that we do to make sure that we understand the root cause of this tragic accident because it shouldn't happen. I have no further comments than that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What were the points of disagreement that had to be resolved? Are you concerned about illegitimate payments?

SVANBERG: No, I think it was a very constructive meeting and it is a meeting that includes many different parts. And it is important to get all the language right. But the determination and the ambition to get through this was clear from the beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long did you spend with the president himself?

SVANBERG: I spent a fair amount of time and I must say that he is - he comes across as a -- he is frustrated because he cares about the small people and we care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care, but that is not the case at BP. We care about the small people.

QUEST: Carl-Henric Svanberg, the chairman of BP, talking to the press.

You know the old saying, better late than never. And he said in words, I apologize to the American people on behalf of BP. He went on to say: "We will not -- BP will not pay dividends this year." He said: "We are -- words are not enough. We will be judged by our actions," expressing sadness and sorrow, he said: "We feel for you, feel for the American people for this tragic accident."

You are up to date with the developments tonight on BP, from the president and from the company.

Because that's QUEST MEANS BUSINESS for tonight.

I'm Richard Quest.

Whatever you're up to in the hours ahead, I do hope it's profitable.

As we continue our coverage, "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is in a moment. And there's a bulletin of world news in "WORLD ONE" at the top of the hour.

Good evening.

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