Bush Still Stands By Ports Deal

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer stops a truck towing a cargo container in the lane of a radiation detection device at Port Newark, Friday, Feb. 24, 2006, in Newark, N.J. The customs department, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, gave a media briefing and tour at Port Newark to try to ease concerns over the pending sale of the port operator, to a firm owned by the United Arab Emirates government. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
AP
President Bush said Tuesday he remains supportive of a United Arab Emirates-based company's takeover of some U.S. port operations, even though a new, more intensive investigation of the deal's potential security risks has yet to begin.

Mr. Bush is the final arbiter of that second review. Yet, he said after an Oval Office meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that "my position hasn't changed" on support for transferring control of management of some major U.S. port facilities from a British company to Dubai-based DP World.

The administration's approval of the deal has caused an uproar from Republicans and Democrats in Congress that it could open the country to terrorist dangers. Lawmakers criticized the deal anew on Tuesday, despite Republican leaders' hopes that the furor had diminished.

In another potential setback for the deal, the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the parent company of DP World participates in the Arab League's boycott of Israel.

Reacting to the report, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said, "This boycott not only violates at least the spirit of U.S. law, it is inconsistent with everything we believe in as Americans. We should not be rewarding companies that support discrimination against our key strategic ally and the Middle East's only democracy."

Hoping to quell the bipartisan rebellion and prevent a potentially embarrassing clash over legislation, the Bush administration agreed Sunday to DP World's request for a 45-day investigation of deal's potential security risks, a second review that was not done before the administration's Jan. 17 approval.

The investigation will result in a report submitted to the president, who will have 15 days to decide whether to approve it.

Mr. Bush suggested there was no reason to think the second investigation would produce any different outcome than the first.

"I look forward to a good, consistent review," he said as he and Berlusconi alternated in taking questions from reporters in the Oval Office.

He urged Congress to "please, look at the facts."

"What kind of signal does it send throughout the world if its OK for a British company to mange the ports but not a company that has been secured — that has been cleared for security purposes from the Arab world?" he said. After his remarks on port security, Mr. Bush told the translator not to translate his answer into Italian, unlike his other responses.