The President's Unlikely Allies in UAE Ports Deal President Bush has been defending a business arrangement that could put a firm based in the United Arab Emirates in charge of some terminals at six major U.S. ports. Opponents of the plan, including many Democrats and some key Republicans, call the deal a security risk. But the president has gained support from some unlikely allies -- including his former political rival, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), plus officials in an Israeli company that has dealt with Dubai Ports World. Madeleine Brand discusses the issue with Ivan Watson.
NPR logo The President's Unlikely Allies in UAE Ports Deal

The President's Unlikely Allies in UAE Ports Deal

Audio is no longer available

President Bush has been defending a business arrangement that could put a firm based in the United Arab Emirates in charge of some terminals at six major U.S. ports. Opponents of the plan, including many Democrats and some key Republicans, call the deal a security risk. But the president has gained support from some unlikely allies — including his former political rival, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), plus officials in an Israeli company that has dealt with Dubai Ports World. Madeleine Brand discusses the issue with Ivan Watson.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

At home, President Bush has been under bipartisan attack over an Arab company's bid to take over shipping terminals at six American ports. Lawmakers have called the United Arab Emirates untrustworthy and a bazaar for terrorists. But now the deal has some unlikely supporters, including an Israeli shipping company, and Bill Clinton has weighed in.

NPR's Ivan Watson is in Dubai, and Ivan, welcome to the program.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Thank you, Madeleine.

BRAND: The United Arab Emirates officially boycotts Israel, but an Israeli shipping company has gone on the record defending this ports deal. Why?

WATSON: This letter was first published by CNN. It's from the CEO of Israel's largest shipping company, Zim Integrated Shipping Service, and it was originally sent to Senator Hillary Clinton. And the CEO basically said that as an Israeli company, security is of the utmost importance and that his company was very comfortable calling at ports run by Dubai Ports World, that they had never experienced any security issues and that, in fact, this Israeli company was proud of its association with an Arab company, D.P. World.

This is very unusual, especially since the United Arab Emirates is currently boycotting Israel. Even more unusual is that officials here in the U.A.E. have welcomed this letter, saying that it is evidence of the fact that Dubai Ports World is a professional organization, that it would not pose a threat to U.S. national security if it did take over management of American shipping terminals.

This official that I spoke with, he's the Director of International Affairs at the Court of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and he said that there is indirect trade between the U.A.E. and Israel at ports outside of the U.A.E., and he said that the issue of the boycott of Israel is being addressed in trade negotiations with Washington. I do have to add, though, that I tried today; still, I cannot get through to Israeli websites. They are blocked, censored, by the government here.

BRAND: Now, Ivan, you said that this letter was sent to Senator Hillary Clinton. She has been among the leading lawmakers against this ports deal, and it's interesting that her husband, Bill Clinton, has had a somewhat different stance on this deal, and can you explain it?

WATSON: Well, according to the Financial Times, a Clinton spokesman confirmed that Bill Clinton was consulted by Dubai Ports World about two weeks ago, and he offered some advice then on how to negotiate with Congress to get over this controversy. Bill Clinton has long had close ties to the U.A.E. He frequently stops here on trips and has reportedly earned hundreds of thousands of dollars speaking before audiences in this country.

BRAND: Ivan, in the U.A.E., where you are, how have government officials responded to the latest criticism here from Congress?

WATSON: Well, they continue to stress their close ties with the U.S. government. They say there is a close military alliance. They are going to continue sharing intelligence and providing military support, even if this deal falls through. They repeat the fact that 12 hundred U.S. servicemen are stationed at a U.S. Air Force base here, that 25 warplanes conduct surveillance and refueling flights from here over Iraq and Afghanistan. But they do warn that the business climate is likely to sour, that local businessmen are going to think twice about investing in the U.S. in the future.

BRAND: Ivan Watson, in Dubai, thank you.

WATSON: You're welcome, Madeleine.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.