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The Congressional Connector

Week of February 20 - 24, 2006

House and Senate Lawmakers Call for National Security Review of Ports Sale
The House and Senate were in recess this week; however, media reports that the Bush Administration had signed off on a $6.8 billion deal that would put a government-owned United Arab Emirates company in charge of six major U.S. ports resulted in bipartisan outcry from members of Congress.  Representatives and Senators from both parties called on the White House to put the deal on hold.  The President subsequently said he would veto any legislation Congress might pass to halt the ports deal.  This would be President Bush’s first use of his veto power since taking office in 2001. 

At issue is a deal that would give control of shipping operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia to Dubai Ports World.  This company is owned by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  The concern over the sale is due to the record of the United Arab Emirates on terrorism.  Critics of the transaction note that two of the hijackers in the September 11th attacks came from the UAE and laundered some of their money through its banking system.  Before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the UAE was one of only three countries in the world that recognized the repressive Taliban regime which seized control of Afghanistan in the late 1990s and provided safe harbor for Osama bin Laden.  

On February 23, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing and asked Administration officials why the Administration did not conduct a 45-day review of the port deal, which is required under U.S. law in cases when a sale to a state-owned company could affect the national security of the United States.  The officials indicated that the Administration did not believe the 45-day review to be mandatory.  

Rep. Sander Levin issued the following statement regarding the President’s threat to veto Congressional action on the sale of operational control of U.S. ports to a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates:  “The President should immediately withdraw his threat to veto legislation to review or reverse the sale of a company providing operational control over six major U.S. ports to the government of the United Arab Emirates.  This sale raises serious national security concerns that required the Administration to exercise the full 45-day investigation warranted under the law and to consult fully with Congress.  Congress must now insist on a full investigation of the circumstances of this decision and the President should not stand in opposition to that effort.”

On February 26, Dubai Ports World offered to submit the sale for a 45-day national security review.  The Bush Administration has accepted the proposal.  

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