On Tuesday, following a visit to Florida, he is due to make a live televised address to the country focusing on his administration's response to the spill so far and its strategy in the coming months.

IN DEPTH

The speech will be the first ever Oval Office address of his administration.

A day later Obama is due to meet BP executives at the White House to discuss damage claims and the next steps in stopping the leak.

Speaking on the first stop of his tour in Mississippi on Monday, he said the two days surveying the region would help him prepare for the meeting.

"We're gathering up facts, stories, right now so that we have an absolutely clear understanding about how we can best present to BP the need to make sure that individuals and businesses are dealt with in a fair manner and a prompt manner," he said.

Threatened

Later, speaking in the town of Theodore, Alabama, Obama said he could not promise that the oil would be cleaned up overnight, but said that the "full resources of our government are being mobilised to confront this disaster."

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Thick plumes of oil from the blown out BP well have already swamped significant parts of the Gulf shoreline, penetrating critical marshlands and threatening breeding grounds for wildlife, waterfowl and the region's lucrative fishing resources.

With the ruptured Deepwater Horizon well continuing to spill millions of litres of oil into the Gulf every day, the White House has been stepping up efforts to show that the president is doing all he can to stem the flow and ensure victims of the disaster are compensated.

Shortly before the US president began his tour of the region, spokesman Bill Burton told reporters that the administration and BP were "working out the particulars" of Obama's demand that the oil giant set up a multibillion-dollar, independently run damage fund.

He said the account would be in the hands of a third-party and would amount to "billions of dollars".

"We're confident that this is a critical way in which we're going to be able to help individuals and businesses in the Gulf area become whole again," he said.

The ongoing disaster and criticism of the government's response has badly dented Obama's poll ratings in recent weeks.

Dealing with the catastrophe has also cut severely into his schedule, forcing the cancellation of a trip to Asia and Australia, and threatening his legislative agenda on issues like financial overhaul, climate change and immigration reform.

Dividend delay

Also on Monday BP's board met in London to discuss deferring its second-quarter dividend and putting the money into escrow until the company's liabilities from the spill are known.

Thick plumes of oil have washed up along large stretches of coastline [AFP]

Sheila Williams, a BP spokeswoman, said the company was aware of the White House's demand for a compensation fund, but declined to comment further.

Some analysts have raised concerns that claims for compensation and clean-up could bankrupt the London-based energy giant.

BP said on Saturday that it was "not in discussions with" and had "not engaged any bankruptcy experts".

Admiral Thad Allen, the coast guard official leading the government response to the disaster, has said BP must provide him with a "faster plan" to respond to the disaster.

On Monday as Obama began his tour of the Gulf states, administration officials said that BP had responded to a letter sent over the weekend asking the company to speed up its ability to capture the spewing oil.

In its response, BP said it would target containing more than 8 million litres of oil a day by the end of June, up from a current rate of about 2.4 million litres of crude a day now.

The government's high-range estimates say as much as 8 million litres a day could be gushing from the runaway well.

Although BP is now siphoning significant amounts of oil, the leak will not be killed for good until relief wells are completed in August.