- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Bush administration yesterday rebuffed criticism about potential security risks of a $6.8 billion sale that gives a company in the United Arab Emirates control over significant operations at six major American ports.

Several lawmakers asked the White House to reconsider.

The sale to state-owned Dubai Ports World was “rigorously reviewed” by a committee that considers security threats when foreign firms seek an interest in U.S. industry, National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, run by the Treasury Department, took into account an assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies. The committee’s 12 members agreed that the sale did not present any problems, the department said.

The public defense of the secretive committee, which reviews hundreds of such deals each year, came in response to criticism about the purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

The world’s fourth-largest ports company runs commercial operations at shipping terminals in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

Four senators and three House members asked the administration yesterday to reconsider its approval. The lawmakers contended the UAE is not consistent in its support of U.S. terrorism-fighting efforts.

“The potential threat to our country is not imagined, it is real,” Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, said in a House speech.

Dubai Ports World said it had received all regulatory approvals for its purchase and noted that the administration did not object.

“We intend to maintain and, where appropriate, enhance current security arrangements,” the company said in a statement. “It is very much business as usual for the P&O; terminals” in the United States.

Lawmakers said the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. They also said the UAE was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban as legitimate.

The State Department describes the UAE as a vital partner in the fight against terrorism. Dubai’s own ports have participated since last year in U.S. efforts to detect illegal shipments of nuclear materials.

Rep. Vito J. Fossella, New York Republican, urged congressional hearings on the deal.

“At a time when America is leading the world in the war on terrorism and spending billions of dollars to secure our homeland, we cannot cede control of strategic assets to foreign nations with spotty records on terrorism,” Mr. Fossella said.

Critics also have cited the UAE’s history as an operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“Outsourcing the operations of our largest ports to a country with a dubious record on terrorism is a homeland security and commerce accident waiting to happen,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “The administration needs to take another look at this deal.”

Separately, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said yesterday it will conduct its own review of the deal and urged the government to defend its decision.

In a letter to the Treasury Department, Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia said the independent review by his agency was necessary “to protect its interests.”

The lawmakers pressing the White House to reconsider included Sens. Schumer; Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican; Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat; and Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat; and Reps. Foley, Fossella and Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican.


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