Sale Sparks Political Battle
President Bush is fighting members of his own party over concerns
that the sale of a company that manages six major U.S. seaports
would jeopardize national security.
Printer-friendly versions: PDF
A British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation, manages the day-to-day
operation of seaports in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami
and New Orleans.
week, Dubai Ports World, a state-run business in the oil-rich nation of United
Arab Emirates, acquired the British firm in a $6.8 billion deal.
The deal was approved by a panel that includes representatives
of the FBI, Pentagon, Treasury and Homeland Security departments,
and the U.S. Coast Guard will continue to run security at the
The arrangement triggered protests from lawmakers in both parties who expressed
concerns because at least two of the 9/11 hijackers came from the United Arab
Emirates, and others used it as a financial base.
"The bottom line
is very simple, and that is that this company is owned by a country in which there
have been significant nexus with terrorists," said New York Democratic Senator
Democratic Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Hillary Rodham
Clinton of New York are sponsoring a bill that would block the
sale of U.S. port operations to companies owned by foreign governments.
Among the lawmakers threatening to hold up the deal are members
of the president's own Republican Party, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of
Tennessee, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois.
said he is "concerned about the national security implications that this
could have for the safety of the American people."
And Frist said,
"If the administration cannot delay the process, I plan on introducing legislation
to ensure that the deal is placed on hold until this decision gets a more thorough
administration supports the deal|
President Bush defended the deal, telling reporters that he would veto any
bill to block the agreement.
"I don't understand why it's OK for a
British company to operate our ports but not a company from the Middle East when
we've already determined security is not an issue," Mr. Bush told reporters
after Frist's statement.
need to "step up and explain why a Middle Eastern company is held to a different
standard," he said.
Kim Petersen, executive director of the Maritime
Security Council, which represents 70 percent of the world's ocean shipping said
the security fears were political and feeding on "bigotry" against Arabs.
in the United Arab Emirates has been angry.
"Islamophobia is rising
and has become like an infectious disease that spreads ... in the West" wrote
columnist Rashid Saleh al-Oraimy in the daily paper, Gulf News.
"The issue of acquiring the British company that operates
U.S. ports is a mere business matter and it has nothing to do with
politics," he added.
The danger of terrorists shipping weapons in the millions of
boxes traveling on boats to U.S. ports has long been an issue
of concern for homeland security officials: currently only around
7 percent is checked by security.
question that the ports are one of the true vulnerabilities," said Jerry
Hauer, former New York City chief of emergency management. "So little cargo
is inspected that the likelihood of getting something through a port is very high."
Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has spent
$18 billion to improve security at airports, but only $560 million to help cities
secure seaports, according to one congressional study.
But Homeland Security
officials say they have increased the number of targeted spot checks at the nation's
ports and deployed more sensors to detect chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The Dubai Ports World acquisition is scheduled to take effect March 2.
Compiled by Leah Clapman for NewsHour Extra