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Republican Duncan Hunter vows to kill ports deal

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March 3, 2006

By LIZ SIDOTI

One of the most prominent House Republicans on military issues said Thursday he would try to scuttle a Dubai-based company’s effort to manage U.S. ports as lawmakers’ complaints about the Bush administration’s handling of the issue continued to spread.
“Dubai cannot be trusted,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and normally one of the administration’s most trusted allies. He called the United Arab Emirates “a bazaar for terrorist nations” and asserted that the United States should not permit DP World to take over significant operations at six U.S. ports.

“I intend to do everything I can to kill the deal,” Hunter said.

Across Capitol Hill, lawmakers criticized the Bush administration anew following disclosures that the United States had launched a fresh investigation Tuesday into a proposed business deal by a second Dubai-owned company. Also sparking the furor was word of a previously unconfirmed investigation into a separate transaction by a leading Israeli software firm.

The government initially approved DP World’s $6.8 billion purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. But on Sunday, the administration agreed to a 45-day investigation of potential security risks to quell a political backlash.

“Too little, too late,” Hunter said.

Opening a hearing on the matter, Hunter said it was “quite remarkable” that the administration did not initially undertake a full review of security implications, given that the company is owned by the United Arab Emirates _ “a bazaar for terrorist nations to receive prohibited components from sources from the free world and from the non-free world.”

Hunter listed instances between 1994 and 2003 in which he said the country helped move materials for weapons of mass destruction, such as heavy water and high-speed electrical switches, to Pakistan, Iran and other countries. He plans to introduce legislation that would require U.S. companies to be the sole owners of infrastructure critical to national security.

The chairman’s sharp remarks underscore the political tempest the White House has run into at a time when events in Iraq and renewed interest in the administration’s failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina have pushed President Bush’s popularity downward.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has sided with the administration on the DP World deal. He and the White House have praised the United Arab Emirates as a key ally in the fight against terrorism.

Congressional GOP leaders want to wait for the results of the administration’s new DP World investigation before considering legislation to delay or block the deal.

House Democrats tried to force a debate and vote on legislation Thursday that would require the 45-day security review and congressional approval of the takeover. That effort failed on a procedural, largely party-line vote.

Leading Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee also asked the administration for details about all pending reviews of foreign business deals and any that have been conducted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The U.S. has conducted only 25 such investigations among 1,600 business transactions reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States since 1988. The panel, made up of 12 government representatives, judges the security risks of foreign companies buying or investing in American industry.

Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, complained that he learned about the second Dubai investigation from news reports, despite regular meetings and discussions with the administration and others on the ports issue recently.

“Maybe they still haven’t gotten their act together over the last few days,” said King, R-N.Y.

Senior U.S. officials told lawmakers they will try to inform Congress better in the future.

“We clearly have to do quite a bit in finding ways to provide you more promptly with the information you need,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt told the Senate Banking Committee.

Dubai International Capital LLC confirmed Thursday it faced investigation over its plans to buy a British precision-engineering company, Doncasters Group Ltd., with plants in Georgia and Connecticut that make parts used in engines for military aircraft and tanks.

The same U.S. review panel also is investigating plans by an Israeli software company, Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., to purchase a smaller U.S. rival.

Kimmitt said U.S. officials notified congressional leaders and oversight committees about the second Dubai-related investigation Monday. The company’s lawyers were notified the following day.

© 2006 The Associated Press