House GOP Cannonade Sinks Ports Deal

A thunderous cannonade from House Republicans sank the deal approved by the Bush Administration that would have allowed a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates to manage operations at six major U.S. ports.

The collapse came after a group of GOP leaders, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.), met with the President yesterday to discuss where their two bodies stood on the plan.

At yesterday’s meeting, according to a report by the Associated Press, Hastert said he told Bush that House leaders believed they were protecting the American people in opposing the deal. Frist gave an assessment of the situation in the Senate, where the Republican leadership lost a 51-to-47 vote to stop the Senate from considering an amendment to a lobbying-reform bill by Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) that would have prohibited Dubai Ports World from operating U.S. ports.

Hastert said that in the meeting the President did not repeat his earlier threat to veto any legislation that attempted to stop the deal.

Later that afternoon, Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (Va.) went to the Senate floor to read a statement from Dubai Port’s World CEO Edward H. Bilkey nixing the deal. “Because of the strong relationship between the United Arab Emirates and the United States and to preserve that relationship,” said the statement, “DP World has decided to transfer fully the U.S. operation of P&O Operations North America to a United States entity.”

The deal was brought down by actions taken Thursdsay before by House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R.-Calif.) and House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.).

Lewis had attached an amendment to a $91-billion supplemental spending bill for the war in Iraq and hurricane relief that would have blocked the use of any federal funds to implement the ports deal. His committee approved the amendment 62 to 2.

Hunter, meanwhile, had introduced sweeping legislation to not only stop Dubai Ports World from leasing American ports, but also to prohibit foreign corporations in general from controlling critical U.S. infrastructure. He has indicated that he will continue to push the legislation even though the ports deal has collapsed. “I’m going to do everything I can to make it go and I think there’s a lot of momentum,” said Hunter.

Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield said Lewis and Hunter had been in contact with each other as they worked to stop the ports deal in different ways. Scofield pointed out that because of the jurisdiction of their respective committees, Lewis was a “budget guy,” while Hunter was a “policy guy.” Lewis aimed to “address immediate concerns and offer something narrowly tailored to national security,” said Scofield. “It was a national security bill and this was an amendment about national security concerns.”

Hunter’s bill would require corporations controlling critical infrastructure to have a chief executive officer and a chairman of the board of directors who are U.S. citizens. Within five years, the majority of the company’s voting and nonvoting shares must be owned by U.S. citizens. The bill would also mandate inspection of 100% of the commercial cargo entering the U.S. by land, sea or air.

The bill directs the secretary of Defense in consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security to create and maintain a list of entities considered “critical infrastructure,” subject to annual inspections.

However, the bill specifically directs that the ports that were poised to be sold to Dubai Ports World in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, New Orleans, Houston and Newark must be on the critical infrastructure list.

“Dubai has not been trustworthy in terms of transshipping or stopping the transshipment of components of nuclear systems and other systems considered deadly weapons through their port to other nations of the world, a number of which are not allies of the United States and in fact are rogue regimes,” Hunter said at a press conference unveiling the National Defense Critical Infrastructure Protection Act of 2006, which was held two days before the deal was scuttled.

The non-partisan Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, which has been tracking the spread of nuclear weapons technology since 1986, has found that Dubai has an alarming track record of shipping nuclear-weapons-related materials. In 2003, for example, Dubai allowed the transshipment of “66 triggered spark gaps, which can be used to detonate nuclear weapons,” from South Africa to Pakistan. That same year, according to the Wisconsin Project, “[f]ive containers of centrifuge components” shipped through Dubai were seized enroute to Libya.

“The point is that if you are an outlaw regime and you want . . . to develop a nuclear weapons program, you have your components transshipped through Dubai,” said Hunter.

Hunter said he took information from the Wisconsin Project to the White House and briefly spoke to the President about it. “My take on this is that the President relied on his CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.) board, that they did a superficial scrub on this, that they didn’t know this; and that they are . . . more of an arm of the administration which is designed to expedite or shape acquisitions so that they can take place rather than to stop acquisitions,” he said.