Dubai Company Postpones Ports Deal

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The Dubai company purchasing the rights to operate several U.S. ports has agreed to postpone some aspects of the takeover in order to give the Bush administration more time to convince Congress of the deal's merits. Some lawmakers say this is a step in the right direction; others are not mollified.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. First up this hour, the latest in the controversy over U.S. port operations. Today the White House praised the company Dubai Ports World for agreeing not to take over management of some terminal operations at six ports next week. The Bush Administration hopes to use that delay to quell a bipartisan congressional revolt against the deal, which was officially approved. Despite a veto threat from President Bush, lawmakers still plan to introduce legislation next week requiring greater scrutiny of the transaction. NPR's David Welna is at the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Although President Bush spoke at length today about trouble spots in the Middle East, not once did he mention the ports deal with an Arab state that's become a major trouble spot for him this week. But White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that Dubai Ports World's postponement not of the acquisition itself but of its hands-on management of the U.S. port facilities, is "helpful" for reassuring members of Congress. That slight delay, McClellan said, should help lawmakers feel more comfortable about the transaction moving forward. But Senate Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey says the delay does nothing to stop Dubai Ports World from taking over some U.S. port facilities.

Senator ROBERT MENENDEZ (Democrat, New Jersey): It's totally unsatisfactory, and I really look at it as a smokescreen to diffuse the public outcry against the handing over of port operations to a foreign government.

WELNA: Menendez joined three other Senate Democrats and four Senate Republicans in saying they still plan to introduce emergency legislation when Congress returns from recess next week. Their bill would require a 45-day investigation of the ports deal as well as give Congress authority to scotch that deal. Today in Miami, New York Democratic senator Hillary Clinton said the need for such an investigation was made clear yesterday at a Senate Armed Services Committee briefing she attended.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I think we successfully demonstrated that the administration had not done the job it was expected to do, that under the statute as written they had a higher duty than the one they fulfilled.

WELNA: The White House continues to maintain no further investigation is needed. Officials there say President Bush stands by his threat to veto any legislation holding up the Dubai deal. Jim Manley, the spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, says the president's welcome to use his veto power for the first time.

Mr. JIM MANLEY (Spokesman, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid): Given what we've seen so far, there is vast majorities in both the House and the Senate that would be prepared to vote against the president.

WELNA: Among the deal's critics is the highest-ranking member of Congress, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Earlier this week, he demanded an immediate moratorium on the port transaction. Today his spokesman, Ron Bonjean, had this to day about the Dubai firm's plans to postpone direct involvement in the port operations.

Mr. RON BONJEAN (Spokesman, Speaker of the House): This is a step in the right direction. It is delay, and we see that as a good move. The speaker will be meeting with the House Republican leadership team next week in order to fully assess what direction that we're going to go in.

WELNA: A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who's also criticized the ports deal, said today no decision's been made about what the Senate's next step will be. The Senate Banking Committee plans to hold hearings on the deal next Thursday. House Republican Vito Fossella of New York says he and his colleagues have had an overwhelmingly negative response to the deal from their constituents.

Representative VITO FOSSELLA (Republican, New York): If legislation comes next week when Congress reconvenes, I can't imagine that it wouldn't pass overwhelmingly to at least suspend this deal until a more thorough process is performed.

WELNA: If he is to avoid a showdown with Congress he clearly does not want, President Bush may have to persuade top GOP leaders to scuttle the ports deal-delaying legislation that appears to have broad bipartisan support.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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