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A key member of Congress wants to kill that controversial ports deal. Yesterday, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee introduced legislation to just that, even as lawmakers again questioned officials from the Bush Administration and Dubai Ports World. NPR's Bryan Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
At each end of the Capitol yesterday, lawmakers from both political parties raised more questions and objections to the deal allowing Dubai Ports World to take over some terminal operations at six U.S. ports. That sale is now expected to be completed next week, according to company officials. But Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter wants the deal blocked. Hunter says his committee has turned up new evidence that the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is part, has acted against U.S. interests. He says in 2003, the UAE allowed the transfer of 66 electronic triggers for nuclear devices to Pakistan over U.S. objections.
Representative DUNCAN HUNTER (Republican, California): So Dubai cannot be trusted, and you have to have ownership that is trusted when that ownership oversees the operation of an American port.
NAYLOR: Hunter has introduced legislation to roll back the deal. It also calls on the government to identify other U.S. infrastructure vital to U.S. national security.
Representative HUNTER: And having identified that infrastructure would require American ownership of that infrastructure, whether it involves ports, or electric grids, or power plants, or other aspects of American life and our economic well-being that are considered critical.
NAYLOR: Such legislation would have a wide ranging impact, to say the least, affecting foreign operation at port facilities all along the U.S. coastline. The proposed sale to another Dubai-based firm of another British company, this one making components used in the military aircraft engines and tanks, is also raising the eyebrows of lawmakers. The sale is being reviewed by the same Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, known as CFIUS, that approved the Ports deal.
At a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee yesterday, Democrat Charles Schumer of New York wondered why it's getting closer scrutiny.
Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): And the more we learn about the CFIUS process in this investigation, the more questions are raised. Why did they do a 45-day review for tank engines in a box, but not for possible nuclear weapons in a ship's container?
NAYLOR: Connecticut Democrat Christopher Dodd said he found it hard to understand why the CFIUS board didn't ask the President about the Dubai Ports World deal, given its nature.
Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): I'm just curious as to why, with this matter coming up, someone didn't raise their hand in the room of the 12 members of this committee and say, Shouldn't we call the boss on this one?
NAYLOR: Administration officials defended their review of the Ports deal, although conceding that in hindsight they could have done a better job of informing Congress that it was under consideration. It led to this exchange between Banking Committee Chairman Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama and Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt.
Mr. ROBERT KIMMITT (Deputy Treasury Secretary): I think we've made some progress, but your dissatisfaction makes clear that the process in its entirety did not work.
Senator RICHARD SHELBY (Republican, Alabama): It's not just my dissatisfaction.
Mr. KIMMITT: Well, no. Right.
Senator SHELBY: You just need to go out and talk to the people at the coffee shop, in Montana or Oregon or wherever you want to go. There's great concern.
Mr. KIMMITT: I wouldn't mind being there right now, sir, but I'm before their elective representatives.
Senator SHELBY: They would probably have a lot of questions for you.
NAYLOR: And there seems to be no end in sight to the questions posed by Congress.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol
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