WASHINGTON, March 11 (UPI) -- The White House sought to tamp down controversy after President Barack Obama appeared to blame British Prime Minister David Cameron for less-than-full involvement in the 2011 intervention in Libya.
Obama suggested he "had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya's proximity, being invested in the follow-up," adding Cameron soon became "distracted by a range of other things."
Obama was also critical of those he called "free riders," European and Gulf countries calling on the United States to act "but then showing an unwillingness to put any skin in the game."
"We don't have to always be the ones who are up front. Sometimes we're going to get what we want precisely because we are sharing in the agenda. The irony is that it was precisely in order to prevent the Europeans and the Arab states from holding our coats while we did all the fighting that we, by design, insisted" that other countries work to remove Gadhafi from power in Libya, Obama said.
The president characterized Libya as "a mess" and said Cameron stopped paying attention to the crisis because he was "distracted by a range of other things."
Thursday the White House went on damage control, publicly saying Cameron is "as close a partner" as Obama has had. U.S. Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the United States "deeply" values Britain's involvement and contributions.
Cameron's office announced Britain was still "working hard to support the U.N.-led process to establish a stable and inclusive government" in Libya, adding there remain "many difficult challenges."
While the White House worked swiftly to undo any damage to the Obama-Cameron relationship, the comments could nonetheless hurt Cameron's standing, the BBC reported. Obama is concluding his final term as president while Cameron is involved in a public referendum over whether Britain will remain in the European Union. Former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind was critical of Obama's remarks, saying the United States "did far less" than France or Britain in Libya in the aftermath of Gadhafi's departure.
Oliver Miles, former British ambassador to Libya, said, "David Cameron said in September 2011, when the Libyan revolution had been successful and Gaddafi was overthrown, that the role of the foreign powers was now concluded and it was up to the Libyans, and I think that was right thing to say."