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Uproar Continues in US Congress Over Dubai Ports Deal

Members of Congress continue to step up pressure on the Bush administration over the U.S. government's approval of the ports management deal involving Dubai Ports World's acquisition of management operations in six major U.S. seaports.

As a British court gave the final go ahead for Dubai Ports World acquisition of the company that will turn over terminal management responsibilities in six major U.S. ports, the bipartisan clamor continued on Capitol Hill.

Numerous bills have been introduced aimed at blocking the deal, and setting tough new standards regarding foreign ownership of U.S. ports.

Citing vulnerabilities at U.S. ports, House Democrats introduced legislation identical to a measure in the Senate to halt the Dubai Ports World deal and ban foreign governments from controlling operations at U.S. ports effective next October first.

Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and New York Senator Charles Schumer represent areas affected by the ports deal:

SCHULTZ: "Given the current gaps in port security, we are placing too much trust in port terminal operators that are beholden to foreign nations, like this one [the UAE]"

SCHUMER: "We need an examination of the role foreign countries, particularly those that have had a past nexus with terrorism, play in areas with vital national security interests."

Democrats want Congress to have a right of disapproval over the ports deal. They also seek a review of all existing leases with foreign government-owned companies in U.S. ports, and a more transparent government approval process.

Senate Republican leaders have urged patience as a new 45-day review is conducted under an agreement with Dubai Ports World. Other Senate Republicans appear willing to wait for results.

However, in the House Texas congressman Ted Poe is among Republicans siding with Democrat-sponsored legislation, reflecting the extent of Republican unhappiness on the issue:

"A foreign government, and their presence by a company owned and doing business [in] one of our ports, makes no sense," said Ted Poe.

U.S. officials insisted again Thursday the deal was thoroughly reviewed, and that Americans will not be less safe if port management operations are transferred.

The American-born Chief Operating Officer of Dubai Ports World, Edward Bilkey, and its security chief, sought to dispel what they called myths about the approval process, and the company's security record:

"I firmly believe that the security of our country, the United States, is well-served and in fact enhanced on numerous levels by allowing this transaction to go forward," said Edward Bilkey.

However, his testimony followed an array of expert witnesses asserting that the Dubai company would open the United States to new terrorist attacks. Stephen Flynn of the Council on Foreign Relations:

"The security measures that are currently in place do not provide an effective deterrent for a determined terrorist organization intent on exploiting or targeting our maritime transportation system to strike at the United States," said Stephen Flynn.

President Bush, who has threatened to veto any blocking legislation, may have more to worry about from normally supportive majority Republicans than from Democrats.

Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter had this comment as he opened a hearing of his House Armed Services Committee:

"Our government must take steps to enhance our security, not to run the risk of creating greater vulnerabilities," said Duncan Hunter. "We seem to be our own worst enemies. We should require critical U.S. infrastructure to remain in U.S. hands."

Congressman Hunter also released information about what he called the key role of the United Arab Emirates, and specifically Dubai, as a transfer point for illicit nuclear and chemical weapons materials and equipment.

Adding to the uproar was a Washington Post report Thursday that U.S. officials are closely scrutinizing another Dubai-owned company over its planned acquisition of U.S. factories manufacturing components used in engines for military aircraft and tanks.

Critics say this stands in contrast to what they allege is an absence of attention given the Dubai Ports World deal.

Company officials say the $6.8 - billion acquisition of the British P&O Company should be completed next week. They reiterated the company will not move to assume management at U.S. ports until after the new 45-day review period.