Dubai Company Delays Deal to Run Ports
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Supporters of a bid to over operations at some American ports hope a little more time can calm a controversy. Dubai Ports World is about to buy control of operations at six American ports. Last night the company said it will go ahead with that purchase, but delay assuming actual management of the ports. That gives Congress time to examine the security concerns that some lawmakers raised because it is a Persian Gulf firm.
President Bush has strongly supported this deal, but his advisor, Karl Rove, told Fox News the president could accept a slight delay.
NPR's David Welna reports on the debate.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
Even if President Bush were to make good on his threat to veto any legislation slowing down the Dubai ports deal, Republicans facing reelection next fall don't seem interested in taking up the cause of an Arab Emirate.
Yesterday in Texas, Tom DeLay, the former House Majority Leader, who lost that job after getting indicted, said that more than just a bad idea, the Dubai Ports deal is a national security risk.
Mr. TOM DeLAY (Former House Majority Leader): It's not often that I disagree with President Bush, but I do disagree with him on this one. And when we go back into session next week, I know that Congress will have an important role to play in changing this policy, and we won't back down.
WELNA: President Bush struggled yesterday to cast the ports deal in a more favorable light. Surrounded by his cabinet, he described the deal as simply a transfer of ownership from a British firm to one from Dubai.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The management of some ports, which heretofore has been managed by a foreign company, will be managed by another company from a foreign land. And so people don't need to worry about security. This deal wouldn't go forward if we were concerned about the security for the United States of America.
WELNA: But the President's critics aren't buying that benign portrayal of state-owned Dubai Ports World.
Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): For many of us there is a significant difference between a private company and a foreign government entity.
WELNA: New York Senator Hillary Clinton was one of four Democrats who showed up for a briefing on the ports deal given yesterday by Administration officials to the Senate Arms Service Committee.
The only Republican attending was the panel's chairman, John Warner. Clinton accused the multi-agency panel that reviewed the deal of giving special treatment to Dubai Ports World.
Senator CLINTON: The Administration did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil where they would be subject to court orders. It did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests. If 9/11 was a failure of imagination and Katrina was a failure of initiative, this process is a failure of judgment.
WELNA: No Administration official denied the special terms Clinton described. But Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England did point out that the U.S. has a key strategic interest in maintaining a good relationship with the United Arab Emirates.
Mr. GORDON ENGLAND (Deputy Defense Secretary): They are a friend and ally of the United States and they do stand side by side with us in this war on terror. As you may know, they provide the United States and also our coalition forces unprecedented access. We have over-flight clearances and a lot of logistical support from the United Arab Emirates.
WELNA: Democrats on the panel, though, pointed to the 9/11 Commission report, which described the United Arab Emirates as, quote, "a persistent counterterrorism problem." And they accused the officials who reviewed the ports deal of failing to heed a law that requires a 45-day investigation for acquisitions by foreign governments that could affect national security.
The Treasury Secretary's Robert Kimmitt defended the official review.
Mr. ROBERT KIMMIT (Deputy Treasury Secretary): We didn't ignore the law. We might interpret it differently. But the fundamental fact here: concerns were raised, they were resolved. If they hadn't been resolved, then the national security could've been affected.
WELNA: Which brought this response from Michigan Democrat Carl Levin.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): If the national security could be affected, this requires, this law requires an investigation, period, not just what you call resolution of concerns. It requires that 45-day investigation. That's what the law says.
WELNA: Administration officials continued to insist the Dubai deal at this point can't be undone. But some political face saving may well be in order if the White House is to avoid a showdown with Congress next week over the deal. Delaying its startup may buy time to change some minds, or at least to keep lawmakers from passing legislation that a presidential veto may not stop.
David Welna, NPR News.
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