By  on March 8, 2006

WASHINGTON — As Congressional opposition to the takeover of several U.S. port operations by an Arab-owned company continued to mount, a key Republican leader said Tuesday he plans to attach a port security amendment to an emergency spending bill currently moving through Congress.

The action by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, could force a House vote as early as today on legislation related to port security and Dubai Ports World's $6.8 billion acquisition of U.K.-based Peninsular & Oriental Steamship Navigation Co., which operates terminals in New York/New Jersey, Miami, Houston, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

House and Senate GOP leaders have said they would not bring such legislation to a vote until after a 45-day review of the Dubai company was completed. Congressional and public uproar over the ports deal put the takeover on hold pending the new investigation.

Critics maintain the deal is a potential security risk because Dubai Ports World is owned by the government of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, which at one time recognized the Taliban government in Afghanistan and was the home of two of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as well as a source of terrorist financing.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a strong ally of President Bush, turned up pressure on House GOP leaders by introducing a bill Tuesday that would block any foreign-owned company from owning or operating critical infrastructure such as seaports, reform the process for approving foreign investments and mandate 100 percent screening of cargo shipments.

The Hunter bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Saxton (R., N.J.), would also quash Dubai Port World's bid to take over operations at the six U.S. ports.

Separately, Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) said they had sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking him to examine statements by Dubai Ports World executives that they allege raise questions about the company's ability to operate major U.S. ports.

King, who has introduced related legislation of his own, said he had not had a discussion yet with Lewis over a possible amendment pertaining to the Dubai ports deal and port security.But at a press conference, King said, "To me, an amendment would have to absolutely ensure that Dubai Ports is not involved in any way in the operation of the ports or [implementation and handling] of contracts at the port."

King has proposed a compromise to the White House under which Dubai Ports World would subcontract the operation of terminals to a U.S. company. Under his proposal, Dubai Ports World would receive profits from the contract, but would not have access to terminal records or security information.

Schumer, who has also introduced a bill that would give Congress the right to approve or disapprove national-security reviews of foreign investments, said he would not support any compromise that would allow Dubai Ports World to create an American subsidiary.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said at a press briefing that the White House, which has staunchly defended the initial review and approval of the ports deal, is focused on reforming the committee that oversees foreign investment.

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