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BP chairman offers apology, promise to fix damage

After meeting today with President Obama and senior administration officials in a highly anticipated session at the White House, top BP officials emerged from lengthy talks to apologize to the American people and promise their company will repair the damage done along the Gulf Coast.

"I would like to take this opportunity," BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said, "to apologize to the American people on behalf of all the employees of 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."

In front a large group of reporters gathered at stakeout cameras outside the West Wing, Svanberg tried to sympathize with local fisherman and business owners, saying large oil companies like his often he get a bad rap. At BP, he explained, "We care about the small people."

He told the press, "I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care. But that is not the case with BP. We care about the small people."

But Svanberg also stuck a somewhat defensive tone, saying BP has "always met our obligations and responsibilities." He argued that "we have made clear from the first moment of this tragedy that we will live up to all our legitimate responsibilities."

Calling the meetings "constructive," Svanberg said BP is committed to repairing the environmental and economic damage to the Gulf Coast region. "We will look after the people affected," he pledged.

"This administration and our company are fully aligned in closing this well, cleaning the beaches, and care for those affected," he explained.

Moments after Obama announced a $20 billion escrow account to cover damage claims because of the spill, Svanberg promised those claims would be handled "fairly and swiftly."

And, heeding the calls of many U.S. lawmakers, Svanberg made some news by announcing that BP's board decided to suspend its dividend payments this year.

But Svanberg side-stepped a question of whether BP took safety short cuts on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded on April 20. He said the company is doing its own 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 have happened."

Svanberg said he hopes his company's actions "over the long term that we will regain the trust that you have in us."

BP CEO Tony Hayward, who's been the face of the company's response since the tragedy, didn't speak to the press. Instead, he stood behind the chairman -- alongside BP's general counsel and managing director.