The state-owned United Arab Emirates company that is set to take over management operations at six U.S. ports is requesting a 45-day review from the U.S. panel that approves foreign investment in the United States. The move is unlikely to stem debate about security concerns, if the UAE takes over the U.S. ports' management.
Britain's Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company wants to sell its port management operations in the United States to Dubai Ports World, a state-owned firm from the United Arab Emirates.
The multi-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has approved the deal, but politicians from both major U.S. political parties have lined up in vocal opposition. Critics worry about UAE connections with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and say the ports deal threatens U.S. national security.
Republican Senator John Warner told the NBC television program Meet the Press that Dubai Ports World, Congress and the White House have hammered out an agreement for the deal to undergo a 45-day review period.
"And this is the copy of the agreement, which is now being delivered to the administration and to members of Congress," said John Warner. "And it really spells out unequivocally the willingness of this company to give every means of support to help work this thing out."
Speaking on the same program, Republican Congressman Peter King, who has been one of the staunchest critics of the deal, called the investigation a positive step. But he said he would reserve his judgment, until he sees more details.
King added that he wants assurances that cooperation with a UAE company does not turn out to be what he called "an alliance of convenience."
"I would have to be shown that there is nobody in the government today of UAE, which had ties to the Taleban or to al Qaida, no one within this company has ties to al Qaida or the Taleban, because, remember, this was only four and a half, five years ago, that they were very close to bin Laden; they were supporting the Taleban," said Peter King.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration said it would welcome a review period. White House Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend told Fox News Sunday the review will give time for the American public to learn the facts.
"Because, once people understand that security is never going to be outsourced, it will continue to be handled by the men and women of the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Patrol, and that this is really a commercial deal, where the security concerns have been addressed, that's a good thing, and people will be more comfortable with it," said Fran Townsend.
In answer to a question about whether opposition to the UAE ports deal amounts to anti-Arab bigotry, Townsend called the UAE an ally, and said all U.S. allies should be treated equally.
James Zogby, of the non-profit Arab-American Institute, told CNN's Late Edition he believes American politicians are aggravating prejudice against Arabs in their opposition to the ports deal. He adds that, although the White House wants to see the deal go forward, the administration's emphasis on terrorist threats has fueled conditions for such strong public sentiment.
"And the reason why people are afraid is because leadership led them down this path, it exploited the fear, the concern, and it used an Arab bogeyman to do it," said James Zogby.
President Bush has defended the deal, saying it does not jeopardize U.S. security. He has repeatedly said the UAE is an ally in the war against terrorism, and cautioned that the United States, in his words, should "not send mixed messages to friends and allies."
The six U.S. ports affected are Baltimore, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, New York, and Philadelphia.