Politics with Juan Williams: Ports Deal

Washington remains in an uproar over a Dubai-based company's plans to take over operations at several U.S. ports. Juan Williams and Alex Chadwick discuss the week's political events.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And now to NPR senior correspondent and DAY TO DAY contributor Juan Williams, back with us for news and analysis from Washington, as he regularly is on Fridays. Welcome back, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good to be with you, Alex.

CHADWICK: Political story this week, the port story. This company now from the United Arab Emirates Dubai Ports World says it will go ahead with the deal to buy the British company that manages these U.S. ports but delay actually taking over because of the political reaction to this. Is this going to sell on Capitol Hill?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's a matter of what happens in between now and then. It's not really a delay, Alex. They're just simply finalizing the cash for stock transaction by March 2, but in the meanwhile, what you have is President Bush talking with people on Capitol Hill, trying to use the Treasury Deputy Secretary Robert Kimmitt to make it clear to everybody that the proper vetting, due diligence was exercised here, security concerns were addressed, and nobody, nobody in Homeland Security, the Pentagon or any other federal agency raised objections.

In addition, I think you're going to see Karl Rove make the point that there is, you know, a security interest for people to be aware of. If you're on the Republican side, and the Republicans have been strong critics of the President on this, that in fact you look at some of these countries in the Middle East, including United Arab Emirates, the countries that make up that group, that they have given the U.S. great latitude in terms of Navy ships, airport landing strips, and that there has to be some trade-off in terms of national security interests.

CHADWICK: Meaning that we need to be able to say, well, yeah, come ahead. You've been a friend, and we're going to treat you like a friend.

WILLIAMS: Well, we're going to treat you like a trusted ally. I think they have concerns, but they want to make the case, the Administration here, I'm talking about when I say they, want to make it clear to people on Capitol Hill that there are foreign policy implications and that they don't feel they're sacrificing anything in the way of national security.

CHADWICK: But the political reaction, Juan. The Republicans are out on this. The Democrats are out in front of them. Everybody seems to be really in a turmoil, and they're, it's a week until this happens, and Congressional people are talking about legislation to turn things around.

WILLIAMS: Well, and remember, the President's talking about a veto possibility, Alex, so the President, from the White House point of view, he's setting a tone, saying he's not going to be run over on this. He's taking a stand. He's acting in a presidential manner. He's also coping with the fact of the, you know, lots of people think at this point that he's a lame duck, he doesn't have the power to fight them and that this is an issue that the Democrats will exploit to simply say that they are more concerned and in touch with security issues than this Administration, question the Administration's competence.

Lots of questions have been raised historically about security at the 301, 361 seaports in the nation, questions about whether or not the Administration has done a bad job of protecting cargo, especially, coming in on big ships. So all of that is at play.

CHADWICK: That's all at play, but what's really at play, maybe, is this is a big political embarrassment, very sudden.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. And so what you're going to have to have here is the Administration take, I think, strong political moves to make the case, and if they fail, it's really going to be interesting to see how Republicans attack an injured President Bush.

CHADWICK: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Juan, thank you again.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Alex.

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