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Ports deal drew Homeland concern

Published Feb. 26, 2006

The Homeland Security Department objected at first to a United Arab Emirates company's taking over significant operations at six U.S. ports. It was the lone protest among members of the government committee that eventually approved the deal.

The department's early objections were settled later in the government's review of the $6.8-billion deal after Dubai-owned DP World agreed to a series of security restrictions.

On Saturday, congressional leaders, the company and Bush administration officials appeared to move closer to a compromise intended to derail plans by Republicans and Democrats for legislation next week that would force a new investigation of security issues relating to the deal. Discussions underway Saturday were to continue through the weekend.

The company's decision Thursday to indefinitely postpone its takeover of U.S. port operations did little to quell the political furor.

Among the proposals being discussed is a new, intensive 45-day review of the deal by the government - something the White House had refused to consider as recently as Friday.

Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said discussions among some congressional leaders centered on that issue. "It's my understanding that they are trying to build support for a deal involving a new 45-day investigation," he said.

King, R-N.Y., said he would need to see all the details of a compromise before deciding if it met all of his concerns, or met the demands of the legislation he planned to offer.

Despite criticism from Republicans and Democrats, the president has defended his administration's approval of the ports deal and threatened to veto any measures in Congress that would block it. Republican House and Senate leaders are to meet Tuesday to discuss how to proceed.

The company declined Saturday to discuss any potential compromise that may be in the works.

A DP World executive said the company would agree to tougher security restrictions to win congressional support only if the same restrictions applied to all U.S. port operators. The company earlier had said it would do whatever Bush asked to salvage the agreement.