Lawmakers in Congress are pressing ahead with legislation to prevent Dubai Ports World from taking over management of key seaports in the United States. Legislative steps come as the chairman of the Dubai company tried to allay concerns that the deal will make U.S. ports more vulnerable to terrorists.
Republican and Democrat critics made clear they do not intend to wait until the end of a new 45-day review period during which U.S. government departments will subject the ports deal to more scrutiny.
Appearing with two other House Republicans, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Duncan Hunter, is introducing legislation that would block the deal.
However, Hunter also proposes to require foreign stockholders of companies to divest themselves within a five year period from key U.S. infrastructure, such as ports, if the government determines it to be critical to U.S. economic or national security.
The lawmaker repeated his concerns that, based on past events, the United Arab Emirates which owns Dubai Ports World, cannot be trusted in managing U.S. ports:
"Dubai was asked by the United States not to allow a shipment of high-speed electrical switches to go through, because they can be used to detonate nuclear weapons," said Duncan Hunter. "And they turned us down and said we're shipping them. The idea that that same government is going to be a responsible monitor of our ports, I think does not fly with the American people and I don't think it makes much logic for either the Senate or the House, or the president."
Hunter says he may attach his bill to separate spending legislation the House may consider next week, containing about $70 billion for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and additional funds for hurricane relief.
This and the fact that the Hunter bill proposes to kill the Dubai Ports World deal, sets up a potential showdown with President Bush who has threatened to veto any legislation aimed at blocking the deal.
Another Republican, Congressman Peter King, has proposed to create an insulating layer between Dubai Ports World and its management at U.S. ports, allowing American companies to run them.
"If a contract could be structured in a way that an American-owned company is solely responsible for the operations at the ports, with Dubai Ports having no access whatsoever to any of the information or any role whatsoever in enforcement of that contract, implementation of the contract or carrying out of the contract that is something that to me could be considered," said Peter King.
King adds there can be no consideration of any subsidiary of Dubai Ports World managing ports.
Senator Charles Schumer, another key critic of the deal, agrees:
"It is very hard to say when you own it to say you will have no control over it," said Charles Schumer.
Congressman King has discussed his proposals with the White House.
Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan referred to these discussions at the regular White House briefing Tuesday:
"We have been involved in those discussions and we will continue to work with members to make sure that they have the information they need and they have the facts that they need so they have a greater understanding of this transaction and we believe that as they come to that greater understanding of the facts, they will be more comfortable with the transaction moving forward," he said.
The chairman of Dubai Ports World declined Tuesday to say if Congressman King's proposal would be acceptable to the company.
In an interview with CNN, Sultan bin-Sulayem said he believes the 45-day review will convince all concerned that the deal poses no security risks, adding that he is confident the deal will go through.
The Republican-backed legislation aimed at blocking the ports deal is likely to come in the form of an amendment to the separate Iraq-Afghanistan and hurricane relief bill.