President Obama will demand that BP provides more money to handle the Gulf of Mexico oil crisis and sets up a substantial fund to meet claims when he meets the company's senior executives for the first time later this week.
He wants BP to hand over the funds to an independent administrator to supervise the distribution to meet "legitimate" claims and speed up compensation payments to people and companies in southern US states who have either lost their jobs or business.
The president stepped up the pressure in advance of today's meeting of the BP board where directors will discuss whether to bow to earlier US demands to freeze dividend payments to its 314,000 shareholders. Transocean, operators of the Deepwater Horizon rig which caused the disaster after an explosion that cost the lives of 11 men, is pushing ahead with a $1bn (£687m) dividend payout to its shareholders despite calls for a standstill.
Analysis by The Daily Telegraph has revealed that BP's largest shareholders have cut their holdings in the troubled oil giant – with five of the group's top 10 shareholders selling shares in recent weeks.
The call for BP to dig deeper came as the company responded to an ultimatum to increase its efforts to contain the oil spill. US Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Watson accused BP of failing to have the right equipment or back-up plans, but the company said it was providing additional resources to recover more oil.
BP has indicated it is ready to suspend two quarterly dividend payments and place the money in an escrow account but a formal decision is unlikely before Wednesday's White House meeting between the President and Carl-Henric Svanberg, chairman, Tony Hayward, chief executive, Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP America and Bob Dudley, a BP managing director.
President Obama, struggling to cope with public anger over his handling of the accident, plans to spend today and tomorrow in the Gulf to announce US government aid packages for the areas and businesses affected by the spill before returning to Washington for Wednesday's meeting, where observers question whether he will shake hands with Mr Hayward.
Mr Hayward is already in the US where he is being "groomed" for Wednesday's meeting and what is expected to be a tougher encounter on Thursday with a Congressional committee investigating the Gulf disaster. He will be hooked into today's board meeting by telephone.
David Axelrod, the President's chief political adviser, relayed the Obama demands for more cash on NBC's Meet The Press programme. He made it clear the President wants to see a substantial amount paid into an escrow account to meet growing claims. He said: "This is an ongoing crisis, much like an epidemic. Our mission is to hold them [BP] accountable in every appropriate way."
Bill McCollum. Florida's attorney general, has gone further, sending a letter to BP asking the company to put $2.5bn into an escrow account to cover potential losses.
BP has so far spent $1.4bn trying to cap the damaged well, contain the huge spill and provide compensation to businesses and employees. It has also promised to provide $350m for containment areas in Louisiana and has set aside $500m for long-term research into the spill.
BP's decision to consider a dividend freeze has been sharply contrasted with Transocean, the rig owner, which moved its headquarters from the US to Switzerland two years ago to ease tax bills. Transocean said the $1bn payout was announced in February and approved by shareholders on May 14, more than three weeks after the disaster and would not impact on its legal obligations resulting from the loss of the rig.
The company has also been accused of trying to limit its liabilities to just under $27m by using 159-year-old legislation, but after complaints by the US Justice Department it has agreed to consider claims under federal pollution and environmental laws.