(CNSNews.com) - With the issue gaining political traction in this election year, lawmakers in both parties are scrambling to criticize -- and now to block -- a deal that would give the United Arab Emirates control of major U.S. ports.
On Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) will announce "emergency legislation" to block the $6.8 billion deal.
Dubai Ports World, a company that is owned and operated by the United Arab Emirates, is buying a British company that currently controls most operations at major ports on the East Coast -- New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami -- and New Orleans on the Gulf Coast.
The Department of Homeland Security screens a small percentage of the cargo coming in and out of those ports. But the port operator is responsible for the rest of the cargo, the port facility itself, and it also hires security personnel, Schumer and King said in a press release.
They are among a growing number of lawmakers who object to having such critical functions being transferred to an Arab country, given concerns about terrorist infiltration.
Even the conservative American Family Association is urging its members to ask President Bush to override the ports agreement.
The Bush administration considers the United Arab Emirates to be a key ally in the war on terror, but al Qaeda used its banking system to finance the 9/11 attacks, press reports said, and two of the 9/11 hijackers came from the U.A.E.
The port deal, which is supposed to be final on March 2, was approved by a U.S. government panel led by Treasury Secretary John Snow. The panel in question -- the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. -- includes representatives from 11 other federal agencies.
Such deals do not require congressional approval.
Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.) plan to introduce legislation barring the sale of port operations to foreign governments, the Washington Times reported on Tuesday.
"We wouldn't turn over our customs service or our border patrol to a foreign government," Menendez said on Monday. "We shouldn't turn over the ports of the United States, either."
The New York Daily News reported that the UAE-owned company, Dubai Ports World, has at least two ties to the White House.
One is Treasury Secretary John Snow, the report said. Snow is the former chairman of the CSX rail firm, and CSX sold its international port operations to Dubai Ports World in 2004, the year after Snow joined President Bush's cabinet.
The other connection, the New York Daily News said, is David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations. Last month, President Bush asked Sanborn to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.
The Republican governors of New York and Maryland on Monday said they are looking into the legal options available to them to block the UAE company from controlling ports in their states.
"This transaction has been vetted at the highest levels," former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told Fox News on Tuesday.
"I don't think anyone would suggest that any one of those [vetters], individually or collectively, would do anything to compromise security at our ports."
Ridge called the U.A.E. ports deal a "perception problem that is vastly different from the reality."
The U.A.E. will not "own" the ports, Ridge emphasized. Security for those state-owned ports will continue to be handled by the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and even the union laborers who work the docks. He also said security concerns exist regardless of who operates the ports.
Ridge noted that Dubai was one of the first Middle Eastern ports that allowed the U.S. to place security agents at the port, complied with electronic manifest requirements, and agreed to the installation of X-ray equipment.
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