U.S. Lawmakers Welcome New Ports Deal Review

Dubai Ports World has asked for an additional 45-day review of its takeover of terminal operations at six ports in the United States. The company hopes to defuse national security concerns about handing that role to a company owned by the government of Dubai.

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The Dubai Ports World controversy did not take a break for the weekend. Yesterday, the Persian Gulf company tried to head off a heated debate. The company owned by the government of Dubai plans to take over management of terminals at six American seaports. It asked the White House and Congress to conduct a thorough review to assure Americans that that deal poses no threat to national security. The proposal offered a way out of the controversy and the White House agreed last night.

Here's NPR's Adam Davidson.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

Dubai Ports World officials are eager to point out that they are not throwing in the towel. They are not giving up on the acquisition of P&O ports and its management of terminals at six U.S. ports. Mike Moore is Dubai Ports' senior vice president.

Mr. MIKE MOORE (Senior Vice President, Dubai Ports World): I can be very clear. We're making no plans whatsoever. We have no thoughts whatsoever about separating any of the assets.

DAVIDSON: Dubai Ports has asked the Bush Administration to begin a second, thorough investigation of the company. Specifically, they have asked the White House to trigger the second phase of the Exxon-Florio provision, a formal 45-day review by 12 government agencies of the National Security Implications of Foreign Investment in the U.S. The company passed the first phase unanimously just over two weeks ago. Moore says they expect a similar result this time.

Mr. MOORE: We expect to have a unanimous recommendation from all 12 agencies.

DAVIDSON: It seems clear, though, that for Dubai Ports and the White House, the real audience for this 45-day review is Capitol Hill. Lawmakers from both parties have angrily questioned the deal. Stephen Hadley, President Bush's National Security Advisor, spoke on CBS's Face the Nation.

Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (National Security Advisor): The security considerations here have been well addressed. There isn't a security risk. This needs to be made clear to the Congress and to the American people.

DAVIDSON: It wasn't clear if this new review will quiet the anger of the deal's greatest critics. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, appeared on the same program.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): If a terminal operator is infiltrated by a terrorist organization, it could wreak havoc on our terminals.

Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, has been the leading voice attacking the Dubai Ports deal. He welcomed the comprehensive review.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): If, after the 45-day investigation, the report is shared with Congress, the public parts with the American people, and then Congress gets some breathing space to approve or disapprove the deal, that would be just fine, there wouldn't have to be a confrontation.

DAVISON: Dubai Ports World is finalizing the purchase of the British firm P&O Ports. That acquisition will give Dubai Ports contracts to manage terminals throughout the world, including at six ports in the U.S. Senator Schumer and others have questioned the deal, saying some of the financing for the 9/11 attacks came through Dubai-based financial institutions. The vast majority of the U.S. ports security experts, though, have said the deal poses little or no threat to national security.

President Bush has called Dubai a close ally in the war on terror. The U.S. Coast Guard and Customs are responsible for security at all U.S. ports, and Dubai Ports is a well-regarded international company. Dubai Ports' Michael Moore says the acquisition of P&O Ports will go forward, but the U.S. portion of the deal will be segregated.

Mr. MOORE: We simply will not interfere in any way the operations in the United States until the 45-day review period is passed.

DAVISON: Dubai Ports will finalize the purchase of P&O Ports by Thursday of this week in London, Moore says. However, even if the White House and the Congress approve of the deal, Dubai Ports could face several city and state lawsuits in the U.S. The state of New Jersey is suing for permission to cancel the contract to operate a terminal in Newark. Other municipalities are exploring similar lawsuits.

Adam Davidson, NPR News.

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