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Bush threatens veto over port deal

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060222/ap_on_go_pr_wh/ports_security;_ylt=AiCM6bYxo4P1EbQ6MZJlGgys0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3OXIzMDMzBHNlYwM3MDM- Bush Shrugs Off
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 21, 2006
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060222/ap_on_go_pr_wh/ports_security;_ylt=AiCM6bYxo4P1EbQ6MZJlGgys0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3OXIzMDMzBHNlYwM3MDM-

      Bush Shrugs Off Objections to Port Deal

      By TED BRIDIS, Associated Press Writer 37 minutes ago

      WASHINGTON - Brushing aside objections from
      Republicans and Democrats alike, President Bush
      endorsed the takeover of shipping operations at six
      major U.S. seaports by a state-owned business in the
      United Arab Emirates. He pledged to veto any bill
      Congress might approve to block the agreement.

      The president on Tuesday defended his administration's
      earlier approval of the sale of London-based
      Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. to Dubai
      Ports World, despite concerns in Congress it could
      increase the possibility of terrorism at American
      ports.

      The sale — expected to be finalized in early March —
      would put Dubai Ports in charge of major shipping
      operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New
      Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. "If there was any
      chance that this transaction would jeopardize the
      security of the United States, it would not go
      forward," Bush said.

      "It sends a terrible signal to friends around the
      world that it's OK for a company from one country to
      manage the port, but not a country that plays by the
      rules and has got a good track record from another
      part of the world," Bush said.

      To assuage concerns, the administration disclosed some
      assurances it had negotiated with Dubai Ports. It
      required mandatory participation in U.S. security
      programs to stop smuggling and detect illegal
      shipments of nuclear materials; roughly 33 other port
      companies participate in these voluntarily. The Coast
      Guard also said Tuesday it was nearly finished
      inspecting Dubai Ports' facilities in the United
      States.

      A senior Homeland Security official, Stewart Baker,
      said this was the first-ever sale involving U.S. port
      operations to a state-owned government. "In that sense
      this is a new layer of controls," he said. Baker added
      that U.S. intelligence agencies were consulted "very
      early on to actually look at vulnerabilities and
      threats."

      Bush sought to quiet a political storm that has united
      Republican governors and Senate Majority Leader Bill
      Frist of Tennessee with liberal Democrats, including
      New York's two senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and
      Charles Schumer.

      Frist said Tuesday, before Bush's comments, that he
      would introduce legislation to put the sale on hold if
      the White House did not delay the takeover. He said
      the deal raised "serious questions regarding the
      safety and security of our homeland.

      House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., asked the
      president for a moratorium on the sale until it could
      be studied further. "We must not allow the possibility
      of compromising our national security due to lack of
      review or oversight by the federal government,"
      Hastert said.

      Maryland's Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, during a
      tour of Baltimore's port on Tuesday, called the deal
      an "overly secretive process at the federal level."

      Bush took the rare step of calling reporters to his
      conference room on Air Force One after returning from
      a speech in Colorado. He also stopped to talk before
      television cameras after he returned to the White
      House.

      "I can understand why some in Congress have raised
      questions about whether or not our country will be
      less secure as a result of this transaction," the
      president said. "But they need to know that our
      government has looked at this issue and looked at it
      carefully."

      A senior executive from Dubai Ports World pledged the
      company would agree to whatever security precautions
      the U.S. government demanded to salvage the deal.
      Chief operating officer Edward "Ted" H. Bilkey
      promised Dubai Ports "will fully cooperate in putting
      into place whatever is necessary to protect the
      terminals."

      Bilkey traveled to Washington in an effort to defuse
      the growing controversy.

      Bush said that protesting lawmakers should understand
      his approval of the deal was final.

      "They ought to listen to what I have to say about
      this," the president said. "They'll look at the facts
      and understand the consequences of what they're going
      to do. But if they pass a law, I'll deal with it with
      a veto."

      Bush, who has never vetoed a bill as president, said
      on the White House South Lawn: "This is a company that
      has played by the rules, has been cooperative with the
      United States, from a country that's an ally on the
      war on terror, and it would send a terrible signal to
      friends and allies not to let this transaction go
      through."

      Lawmakers from both parties have noted that some of
      the Sept. 11 hijackers used the United Arab Emirates
      as an operational and financial base. In addition,
      critics contend the UAE was an important transfer
      point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components
      sent to
      Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.

      They say a port operator complicit in smuggling or
      terrorism could manipulate manifests and other records
      to frustrate Homeland Security's already limited
      scrutiny of shipping containers and slip contraband
      past U.S. Customs inspectors.

      Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., and Democrat Schumer said
      Tuesday they will introduce emergency legislation to
      suspend the ports deal. King, chairman of the Homeland
      Security Committee, said the government "cannot
      consider approving this contract until a much more
      thorough investigation takes place on this security
      matter."

      Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record),
      R-Maine, and Rep. Jane Harman (news, bio, voting
      record), D-Calif., said they would introduce a "joint
      resolution of disapproval" when they returned to
      Washington next week. Collins heads the Senate
      Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee,
      and Harman is the top Democrat on the House
      Intelligence Committee.

      Bush's veto threat didn't stop local efforts to block
      the deal. New Jersey's governor, Jon S. Corzine, said
      Tuesday the state will file lawsuits in federal and
      state courts opposing the agreement. Corzine, a
      Democrat, cited a "deep, deep feeling that this is the
      wrong direction for our nation to take."

      A company at the Port of Miami, a subsidiary of Eller
      & Company Inc., sued last week to block the deal in a
      Florida state court. It said that under the sale, it
      will become an "involuntary partner" with Dubai's
      government and it may seek more than $10 million in
      damages.

      Frist said Congress should have veto authority over
      such foreign sales, which are reviewed by a secretive
      U.S. panel that considers security risks of foreign
      companies buying or investing in American industry.
      The panel includes representatives from the
      departments of Treasury, Defense, Justice, Commerce,
      State and Homeland Security.

      Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld described the
      United Arab Emirates as a close ally. "It's a country
      that's been involved in the global war on terror with
      us," Rumsfeld said. He added that the United States
      and the UAE "have very close military-to-miltary
      relations, as well as political and economic
      relations."

      Separately, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said
      port security would not be threatened. "This is not a
      question about port security," Gonzales said. "This is
      a question about port operation."

      ___

      Associated Press writers Ben Feller, Will Lester,
      Terence Hunt, and Devlin Barrett in Washington,
      Matthew Verrinder in Newark, N.J., and Tom Stuckey in
      Annapolis, Md., contributed to this report.
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