Lawmakers pissed over port takeover by Arabs


    U.S. terms for approving an Arab company’s takeover of operations at
    six major American ports are insufficient to guard against terrorist
    infiltration, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee
    said Sunday.

    “I’m aware of the conditions and they relate
    entirely to how the company carries out its procedures, but it doesn’t
    go to who they hire, or how they hire people,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.,
    told The Associated Press.

    “They’re better than nothing, but to
    me they don’t address the underlying conditions, which is how are they
    going to guard against things like infiltration by al-Qaida or someone
    else, how are they going to guard against corruption?” King said.

    King
    spoke in response to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s
    comments Sunday about conditions of the sale. King said he learned
    about the government’s terms for approving the sale from meetings with
    senior Bush administration officials.

    Chertoff defended the
    security review of Dubai Ports World of the United Arab Emirates, the
    company given permission to take over the port operations. Chertoff
    said the government typically builds in “certain conditions or
    requirements that the company has to agree to make sure we address the
    national security concerns.” But Chertoff declined to discuss specifics
    saying that information is classified.

    “We make sure there are
    assurances in place, in general, sufficient to satisfy us that the deal
    is appropriate from a national security standpoint,” Chertoff said on
    ABC’s “This Week.”

    London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam
    Navigation Co., was bought last week by DP World, a state-owned
    business. Peninsular and Oriental runs major commercial operations in
    New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

    A
    Miami company, Continental Stevedoring & Terminals Inc., has filed
    suit in a Florida court challenging the deal. A subsidiary of Eller
    & Company Inc., the Miami company maintains it the suit disclosed
    Saturday evening that it will become an “involuntary partner” with
    Dubai’s government under the sale.

    “We are aware of the lawsuit,
    but cannot comment until our legal teams have a chance to review it,”
    Michael Seymour, president of the North American arm of Peninsular and
    Oriental Steam Navigation, said Sunday in the company’s initial
    response to the lawsuit.

    He noted that his company “is itself a
    foreign-owned terminal operator that has long worked with U.S.
    government officials in charge of security at the ports to meet all
    U.S. government standards, as do other foreign companies that currently
    operate ports in the United States.”

    “We are confident that the
    DP World purchase will ensure that our operations continue to meet all
    relevant standards in the U.S. through ongoing collaboration between
    the port operators and American, British, Australian and port security
    officials throughout the world,” Seymour said in a statement telephoned
    to the AP.

    Lawmakers from both parties are questioning the sale as a possible risk to national security.

    “It’s unbelievably tone deaf politically at this point in our history,” Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said on “Fox News Sunday.”

    “Most Americans are scratching their heads, wondering why this company from this region now,” Graham said.

    Sen.
    Barbara Boxer, on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said, “It is ridiculous to
    say you’re taking secret steps to make sure that it’s OK for a nation
    that had ties to 9/11, (to) take over part of our port operations in
    many of our largest ports. This has to stop.”

    Secretary of State
    Condoleezza Rice told Arab journalists in an interview Friday at the
    State Department, that it was “the considered opinion of the U.S.
    government that this can go forward.” She pledged to work with Congress
    because “perhaps people will need better explanation and will need to
    understand some of the process that we have gone through.”

    At least one Senate oversight hearing is planned for later this month.

    “Congress
    is welcome to look at this and can get classified briefings,” Chertoff
    told CNN’s “Late Edition.” “We have to balance the paramount urgency of
    security against the fact that we still want to have a robust global
    trading system,” he added.

    Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who is
    working on legislation to prohibit companies owned or controlled by
    foreign governments from running port operation in the U.S., said
    Chertoff’s comments showed him that the administration “just does not
    get it.”

    Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. joined some family members
    of Sept. 11 victims at a news conference Sunday to urge President Bush
    to personally intervene. The president “should override the agreement
    and conduct a special investigation into the matter,” Schumer said.

    Dubai Ports World should not be excluded automatically from such a deal because it is based in the UAE, Chertoff said.

    Critics
    have cited the UAE’s history as an operational and financial base for
    the hijackers who carried out the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In
    addition, they contend the UAE was an important transfer point for
    shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and
    Libya by a Pakistani scientist.

    Dubai Ports World has said it
    intends to “maintain and, where appropriate, enhance current security
    arrangements.” The UAE’s foreign minister has described his country as
    an important U.S. ally in fighting terrorism.

    “I would hope that
    our friends in Abu Dhabi would not be offended by the fact that in our
    democracy, we debate these things,” Rice said in the interview with the
    Arab journalists.

    © 2006 The Associated Press