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Governors question Bush port deal

Two Republican governors on Monday questioned a Bush administration decision allowing an Arab-owned company to operate six major U.S. ports, saying they may try to cancel lease arrangements at ports in their states.

New York Gov. George Pataki and Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich voiced doubts about the acquisition of a British company that has been running the U.S. ports by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates.

The British company, Peninsular and Oriental, runs major commercial operations at ports in Baltimore, Miami, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia.

Critics have cited the UAE's history as an operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In addition, they say the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.

"Ensuring the security of New York's port operations is paramount, and I am very concerned with the purchase of Peninsular & Oriental Steam by Dubai Ports World," Pataki said in a news release.

Ehrlich said he is "very troubled" that Maryland officials got no advance notice before the Bush administration approved the Arab company's takeover of operations at the six ports.

"We needed to know before this was a done deal, given the state of where we are concerning security," Ehrlich said.

Maryland is considering its options, including voiding the contract for the Port of Baltimore, Ehrlich said, adding: "We have a lot of discretion in the contract."

Bush administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, have defended the decision.

During a stop Monday in Birmingham, Ala., Gonzales said the administration had a "very extensive process" for reviewing such transactions that "takes into account matters of national security, takes into account concerns about port security."

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