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White House might delay port deal

Bush administration officials opened the door Thursday to a delay in allowing a state-owned United Arab Emirates company to assume significant operations at six U.S. ports as lawmakers pushed for a new 45-day investigation of the deal.

The company, Dubai Ports World, late Thursday said it was willing to delay part of its $6.8-billion takeover of most operations at six U.S. ports to give President Bush more time to convince skeptical members of Congress that the disputed deal poses no security risks.

Under the offer coordinated with the White House, Dubai Ports World said it will agree not to exercise control or influence the management over U.S. ports pending further talks with the Bush administration and Congress. It did not indicate how long it will wait for these discussions to take place.

The company said it will move forward with other parts of the deal affecting the rest of the world.

"It is not only unreasonable but also impractical to suggest that the closing of this entire global transaction should be delayed," Dubai Ports said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, President Bush had said that "People don't need to worry about security." Shortly after, administration officials who approved the transaction told a Senate committee their 90-day review did not turn up a single national security concern to justify blocking it.

Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, said Bush was willing to accept a slight delay in Dubai Ports World's purchase of terminal leases and other operations at six U.S. ports from a British company.

"There's no requirement that it close . . . immediately after" a British government review of the $6.8-billion purchase is completed next week, Rove said. "What is important is that members of Congress have the time to get fully briefed on this."

Lobbyists for Dubai Ports World indicated that while the company is eager to close the deal, it is willing to agree to a delay to satisfy demands by members of Congress, the Associated Press reported.

However, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada still pushed quick action on legislation relating to the deal when Congress returns to Washington next week.

In a letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Reid wrote that the administration's handling of the deal "could not be more flawed." Reid said he was alarmed at the failure of the administration to "exercise the full statutory authority to conduct a complete investigation into the potential national security implications of this deal."

Also Thursday, administration officials said that weeks before Dubai Ports World sought U.S. approval for the deal, the UAE contributed $100-million to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The administration said there was no connection between the request for U.S. approval of the ports deal and the UAE's contribution.

The White House, which so far has gotten a total of $126-million in international donations, said the UAE's contribution shows the close relationship between the two governments.

The deal allowing Dubai Ports World to take over significant operations at ports from New York to Miami has created a standoff between the president and a Congress controlled by his own party.

Raising concerns about national security in an era of terrorism, Republicans and Democrats alike are crafting legislation blocking or delaying the deal with an Arab country tied to some of the hijackers from Sept. 11, 2001. Bush had pledged earlier to veto such a measure.

Officials from the Homeland Security, Treasury, Defense and State departments appeared before Chairman John Warner, R-Va., and four Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services Committee for a briefing.

The officials assured the panel that the deal has been subject to a careful, three-month review and that all security questions were satisfied. They said no one raised an issue that would have prompted the need for a further, 45-day investigation.

"We're not aware of a single national security concern raised recently that was not part of" the three-month review, Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt told the lawmakers.