New York Senator Wants to Halt Ports Deal

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) plan emergency legislation next week to put a deal with Dubai Ports World on hold pending further investigation. Schumer talks with Robert Siegel about his objection to the deal, and the questions he sent President Bush about the investigation.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Senator Charles Schumer of New York has been vocal in his criticism of the Dubai ports deal and also of how it was approved. He supports legislation to postpone the deal, and he has submitted a list of questions to President Bush about the deal. Senator Schumer joins us by telephone, and, Senator Schumer, first, many of your questions are about the procedure of approval, and we'll get to them in a minute. But I want to hear first about the deal in substance. How could Dubai's ownership of P and O, foreign company already, how could that endanger us in a way that, say, Chinese or Singaporean ownership of a company would not?

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): Well, unlike China or Singapore, Dubai has had a very strong nexus with terrorism, not necessarily the head, or the emir of Dubai, but rather so many people involved. The money for the 9/11 hijackers was laundered through Dubai. Dr. A.Q. Kahn sold his nuclear weapons through the Port of Dubai. Two of the hijackers came from Dubai. The list goes on and on and on.

SIEGEL: Well, does the list actually go on longer than that or is that the list? Because that's all that we've heard about.

Senator SCHUMER: No, no, there's, there are other things as well. It's a pretty significant risk. And, like many of the moderate Arab countries, we're more familiar with Saudi Arabia, the leaders of the country profess friendship to the West, but they neither have, they either don't have the will or the desire to crack down on terrorists in their own country. It's sort of the way of that part of the world.

SIEGEL: The president says these are our allies, and they've been very helpful in not only the war on terrorism, they've been helpful in fighting Hurricane Katrina, he says.

Senator SCHUMER: You know, again, the way terrorists would work is they would infiltrate an organization like Dubai Royal Ports. And they would plant some people in there who would either falsify trade manifests, they might be involved in supervising the actual inspection of cargo. You know, the issue here is, there are a whole lot of questions.

SIEGEL: White House spokesmen said today that in the (unintelligible) process, all the appropriate agencies were consulted. No one raised any objection. When the president found out about it, he called the Cabinet back in. Again, no objection. Does that satisfy the letter of the law?

Senator SCHUMER: Well, you know, this administration has sort of a circle the wagons mentality, unfortunately. You know, every administration, Democrat, Republican, makes mistakes. That's not the problem here. The problem is that when this administration makes a mistake, they get into the bunker and don't admit it. So I don't have faith that ex post facto, after the fact, at a Cabinet meeting, no Cabinet minister brought up an objection. There are doubts about this. There are obvious doubts, common sense doubts. And until a full, thorough and complete investigation is done, we shouldn't let this deal go forward.

SIEGEL: But let me ask you this question, to sum up here. If they turned the clock back and started the process anew, if everything were followed according to Hoyle, as far as you're concerned, and the process worked, is there any way you could be satisfied with Dubai's ownership of the company operating these Eastern Seaboard ports and New Orleans port, or does that end the discussion for you? Is it a bad deal because Dubai owns the company now?

Senator SCHUMER: Okay. I would say there is a very, very strong presumption against a country with a nexus of terrorism like Dubai owning this company. But I'd want to wait for the full report, and if it was A+++++, then you might have to, yes, scratch your head and said maybe this okay. But that's, you know, but proving it and then doing a thorough report is clearly putting the cart before the horse.

SIEGEL: But your mind is...

Senator SCHUMER: I'm dubious...

SIEGEL: A crack open, you're saying.

Senator SCHUMER: But not closed. Right. That's right.

SIEGEL: Senator Schumer, thank you very much for talking with us.

Senator SCHUMER: Great. Thanks.

Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the Dubai ports deal. He spoke to us from Florida.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

You can read a sampling of editorials and op eds on the ports deal from around the country at our website, NPR.org.

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