Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Governors join the outcry over Dubai port takeover


Republican leaders of N.Y., Md may try to cancel lease deals

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

By Devlin Barrett, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Two Republican governors yesterday questioned a Bush administration decision allowing an Arab-owned company to operate six major U. S. ports, saying they may try to cancel lease arrangements at ports in their states.

New York Gov. George Pataki and Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich voiced doubts about the acquisition of a British company that has been running the U.S. ports by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates.

The British company, Peninsular and Oriental, runs major commercial operations at ports in Baltimore, Miami, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia.

Lawmakers say they are worried there are insufficient safeguards to thwart infiltration of the vital facilities by terrorists.

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in Pittsburgh yesterday he had sent a letter to President Bush asking him to override the decision. Mr. Santorum also said he has asked for hearings in Congress and begun discussions with a bipartisan group of members to determine what they could do if the president doesn't rescind the contract.

"This issue came to me early last week from the Port Authority of Philadelphia when they discovered the transaction," Mr. Santorum said following a check presentation on the South Side.

"I did a little work early in the week to run the traps and make sure that there was a concern or whether this was going to be OK. I've got to tell you that on the face of it, the red flags went off in my mind. We have a company that is state-owned, by the UAE, which was implicated in the events of 9/11, now doing port security and managing our ports.

"What I found out was that I do not believe there are sufficient controls to make sure that we do not have any concerns about a company based in the UAE running the port of Philadelphia."

"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."

"Ensuring the security of New York's port operations is paramount and I am very concerned with the purchase of Peninsular & Oriental Steam by Dubai Ports World," Mr. Pataki said in a news release.

"I have directed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to explore all legal options that may be available to them in regards to this transaction," said the New York governor.

The state of Maryland is considering its options, up to and including voiding the contract for the Port of Baltimore, Mr. Ehrlich said, adding: "We have a lot of discretion in the contract."

New York's legal options could include canceling the lease for operation, effectively shutting out Dubai Ports World from port activities, Mr. Pataki said. P&O signed a 30-year lease with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2000 to operate the Port Newark Container Terminal.

Democratic New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez joined the chorus of complaints yesterday.

Mr. Menendez said he and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., will introduce legislation prohibiting the sale of port operations to foreign governments.

Bush administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, have defended the decision.

During a stop yesterday in Birmingham, Ala., Mr. Gonzales said the administration had a "very extensive process" for reviewing such transactions.

(Post-Gazette staff writer Rich Lord contributed to this story.)

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