US President Barack Obama has vowed to make oil giant BP to pay all clean-up costs and damages from what he called "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced."
Expressing the hope that 90 percent of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico will be captured within weeks, Obama used his first Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday to call for a new energy policy to end US dependence on fossil fuel.
In an 18-minute speech, televised nationally, he described what happened in the April 20 explosion and fire on a BP-owned oil rig and compared the millions of gallons of oil leaking into the ocean to an epidemic "we will be fighting for months and even years."
Obama said he will tell BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg Wednesday to "set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness."
"This fund will not be controlled by BP," Obama said. "In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party."
In response to Obama's speech, a BP spokesperson said the company shared the president's goals of "shutting off the well as quickly as possible, cleaning up the oil and mitigating the impact on the people and environment of the Gulf Coast," and looked forward to Wednesday's meeting "for a constructive discussion about how best to achieve these mutual goals."
Critics, however, dubbed Obama's speech as lacklustre and without enough passion to show he was calling the shots. "Obama and his team will have to follow through - with more energy and dedication than they have shown so farm" wrote the New York Times in an editorial.
"We know that the country is eager for reassurance. We're not sure the American people got it on Tuesday night in a speech that was short on specifics and lacking in self-criticism," it said.
Obama also called the Gulf oil disaster "the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now."
The United States must end its dependence on fossil fuels, he said, calling for Congress to rise above partisan politics to take on the challenge of passing energy reform legislation that will lead the way to development of a clean energy economy.