BP's Hayward Flies to Mideast to Meet 'Partners'

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- BP's embattled CEO is in Abu Dhabi to meet business partners amid speculation that the oil giant is looking to drum up cash to cover clean up costs from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Chief Executive Tony Hayward arrived in the Emirati capital Tuesday and would be staying "a couple of days," BP spokesman Andrew Gowers said. He would not say whether Hayward planned to sit down with the region's powerful investment funds.

"He's visiting partners as he does from time to time. He's conducting normal business," Gowers said.

Hayward has been criticized for his handling of the oil spill in the U.S., and in recent days has traveled to other countries where BP operates to reassure the company's partners of its commitments.

BP has a long-standing partnership with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., which is responsible for producing crude oil in the Arab emirate. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the seven-state UAE federation, and holds the bulk of the OPEC member's oil wealth.

Hayward's visit comes as speculation swirls that BP might be looking for investment partners from the oil-rich Middle East.

Abu Dhabi is home to some of the Arab Gulf's most influential sovereign wealth funds. BP shares rose earlier in the week amid reports that the company was reaching out to Gulf funds about investment opportunities in an attempt to fend off possible takeover bids.

The company said this week it would welcome new investors but had no plans to issue any new shares to help pay for the oil spill.

BP shares have lost about half their value since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April, causing the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Gowers declined to say exactly who Hayward would be meeting with in Abu Dhabi or where he was headed next.

"He may go somewhere else. But we're not commenting on where he goes ahead of time," he said.

Hayward arrived in Abu Dhabi from the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan, where he tried to calm fears BP might sell assets there to help pay for the spill clean up. While in Baku, Hayward met with Azerbaijan President Ilkham Aliyev.

The BP CEO also met with Russian officials in Moscow last week. Following those meetings, an official at the company's Russian joint venture TNK-BP said that firm would consider buying some of BP's assets if they were put up for sale.