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Arab Co., White House Had Secret Agreement

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/02/22/D8FUHNM00.html Arab Co., White House Had Secret Agreement Feb 22 9:20 PM US/Eastern By TED BRIDIS Associated Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 22, 2006
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      http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/02/22/D8FUHNM00.html

      Arab Co., White House Had Secret Agreement
      Feb 22 9:20 PM US/Eastern

      By TED BRIDIS
      Associated Press Writer

      WASHINGTON

      The Bush administration secretly required a company in
      the United Arab Emirates to cooperate with future U.S.
      investigations before approving its takeover of
      operations at six American ports, according to
      documents obtained by The Associated Press. It chose
      not to impose other, routine restrictions.

      As part of the $6.8 billion purchase, state-owned
      Dubai Ports World agreed to reveal records on demand
      about "foreign operational direction" of its business
      at U.S. ports, the documents said. Those records
      broadly include details about the design, maintenance
      or operation of ports and equipment.

      The administration did not require Dubai Ports to keep
      copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they
      would be subject to court orders. It also did not
      require the company to designate an American citizen
      to accommodate U.S. government requests. Outside legal
      experts said such obligations are routinely attached
      to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other
      industries.

      "They're not lax but they're not draconian," said
      James Lewis, a former U.S. official who worked on such
      agreements. If officials had predicted the firestorm
      of criticism over the deal, Lewis said, "they might
      have made them sound harder."

      The conditions involving the sale of London-based
      Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. were
      detailed in U.S. documents marked "confidential." Such
      records are regularly guarded as trade secrets, and it
      is highly unusual for them to be made public.

      The concessions _ described previously by the Homeland
      Security Department as unprecedented among maritime
      companies _ reflect the close relationship between the
      United States and the United Arab Emirates.

      The revelations about the negotiated conditions came
      as the White House acknowledged President Bush was
      unaware of the pending sale until the deal had already
      been approved by his administration.

      Bush on Tuesday brushed aside objections by leaders in
      the Senate and House. He pledged to veto any bill
      Congress might approve to block the agreement, but
      some lawmakers said they still were determined to
      capsize it.

      Dubai Port's top American executive, chief operating
      officer Edward H. Bilkey, said the company will do
      whatever the Bush administration asks to enhance
      shipping security and ensure the sale goes through.
      Bilkey said Wednesday he will work in Washington to
      persuade skeptical lawmakers they should endorse the
      deal; Senate oversight hearings already are scheduled.

      "We're disappointed," Bilkey told the AP in an
      interview. "We're going to do our best to persuade
      them that they jumped the gun. The UAE is a very solid
      friend, as President Bush has said."

      Under the deal, the government asked Dubai Ports to
      operate American seaports with existing U.S. managers
      "to the extent possible." It promised to take "all
      reasonable steps" to assist the Homeland Security
      Department, and it pledged to continue participating
      in security programs to stop smuggling and detect
      illegal shipments of nuclear materials.

      The administration required Dubai Ports to designate
      an executive to handle requests from the U.S.
      government, but it did not specify this person's
      citizenship.

      It said Dubai Ports must retain paperwork "in the
      normal course of business" but did not specify a time
      period or require corporate records to be housed in
      the United States. Outside experts familiar with such
      agreements said such provisions are routine in other
      cases.

      Bush faces a potential rebellion from leaders of his
      own party, as well as a fight from Democrats, over the
      sale. It puts Dubai Ports in charge of major terminal
      operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New
      Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

      Senate and House leaders urged the president to delay
      the takeover, which is set to be finalized in early
      March. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee
      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.

      In Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
      said the agreement was thoroughly vetted. "We have to
      maintain a principle that it doesn't matter where in
      the world one of these purchases is coming from," Rice
      said Wednesday. She described the United Arab Emirates
      as "a good partner in the war on terrorism."

      Bush personally defended the agreement on Tuesday, but
      the White House said he did not know about it until
      recently. The AP first reported the U.S. approval of
      the sale to Dubai Ports on Feb. 11, and many members
      of Congress have said they learned about it from the
      AP.

      "I think somebody dropped the ball," said Rep. Vito
      Fossella, R-N.Y. "Information should have flowed more
      freely and more quickly up into the White House. I
      think it has been mishandled in terms of coming
      forward with adequate information."

      At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said
      Bush learned about the deal "over the last several
      days," as congressional criticism escalated. McClellan
      said it did not rise to the presidential level, but
      went through a government review and was determined
      not to pose a threat.

      McClellan said Bush afterward asked the head of every
      U.S. department involved in approving the sale whether
      there were security concerns. "Each and every one
      expressed that they were comfortable with this
      transaction going forward," he said.

      Commerce Secretary Carlos Guiterrez told the AP the
      administration was being thoughtful and deliberate
      approving the sale.

      "We are not reacting emotionally," Guiterrez said in
      an interview Wednesday. "That's what I believe our
      partners from around the world would like to see from
      us is that we be thoughtful. That we be deliberate.
      That we understand issues before we make a decision."

      ___

      Associated Press writers Jeanine Aversa in Washington,
      Anne Gearan in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and John
      Christoffersen in Danbury, Conn., contributed to this
      report.
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