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Congressmen: Don't do port deal
Feb 27, 2006 12:00 am
February 23, 2006
A plan to put a half-dozen American seaports under the control of a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates received sharp criticism from Wilson County's Congressional delegates Wednesday.
U.A.E.-owned security firm Dubai Ports World recently acquired the British company charged with overseeing security at the ports in a $6.8 billion-dollar deal. Under the deal, day-to-day security operations at strategic ports in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Florida would be transferred to the Middle East company March 2, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper said Wednesday.
Leaders in both political parties, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, have voiced concern over the plan, noting it could raise risks of terrorism at American ports.
"I'm opposed to this transaction, and I'm not convinced that it is in our national security interests to move forward," a statement released by Cooper read Wednesday.
Cooper added the Bush administration signed off on the transaction after the deal received unanimous approval from the Committee on Foreign Investments.
U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Murfreesboro, shared Cooper's opinion of the plan and said he will co-sponsor bipartisan legislation aimed at placing the deal under a 45-day moratorium to give U.S. lawmakers more time to review the plan.
"I'm very concerned about the national security implications," Gordon told The Lebanon Democrat. "I think that there should be an immediate moratorium placed on the seaport deal until we can better examine the implications."
"I think it's a very serious issue, and we need to know more about it. This is not something to be done behind closed doors when, really, ports are probably the most vulnerable link in our security system right now," Gordon added, estimating less than 5 percent of all cargo is examined upon entering the United States.
The sale would be the first-ever to involve transferring U.S. port operations to a foreign, state-owned company. President George W. Bush has said the White House has looked at the issue "carefully."
"I can understand why some in Congress have raised questions about whether or not our country will be less secure as a result of this transaction," the president said.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have noted some of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the U.A.E. as a base of operations.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett, however, recently described Dubai Ports World as "a reputable firm that went through a congressionally approved vetting process."
Bartlett told Fox News Channel the president strongly believed the United States should work to add "strategic partners" in the Middle East.
And Bush stood by that belief earlier this week, pledging to veto any attempt to block the agreement. If he ultimately chooses to do so, it would mark the first time Bush has ever used veto power, Gordon said.
"Considering the fact that President Bush has gone longer than any president in our nation's history without a veto, and considering some of the spending bills that I think should have been vetoed, it's amazing that he would choose this issue to draw such a hard line," Gordon said. "But, again, I'm prepared to join a bipartisan group to override his veto if we don't have this moratorium to better investigate the circumstances."
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at email@example.com.