By  on February 28, 2006

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators introduced two separate bills Monday to block the takeover of operations at six U.S. ports by an Arab-owned firm because of national security implications.

The move came after the company, Dubai Ports World, reached a compromise on Sunday with Congressional critics of the deal and asked the Bush administration to undertake a new 45-day investigation.

Five Democrats, led by Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), and five Republicans introduced a bill that would temporarily halt the takeover, pending the 45-day review and Congressional oversight.

"The new agreement [between Dubai Ports and Congress] is a major step forward and a key part of what many of us have been asking for in recent weeks, but there are still some outstanding questions.…the devil is in the details," Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Schumer and the co-sponsors said they would not seek to have the bill voted on right away.

"The President agreeing to a 45-day investigation obviates the need to ask for a vote on the floor immediately," Schumer said. "However, we will keep this legislation at the ready as we follow the investigation and if the investigation should falter, or it should not be made public, then legislation might well be brought to the floor."

Taking a tougher stance, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) introduced a bill with three other Democratic senators to ban companies owned by foreign governments from controlling operations at U.S. ports. The bill would create a roadblock to the pending $6.8 billion sale to Dubai Ports World of U.K.-based Peninsular & Oriental Steamship Navigation Co., which operates port facilities in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Houston, Miami and New Orleans. The acquisition is set to close Thursday.

"In the post-9/11 world, we cannot afford to surrender our port operations to foreign governments," Clinton said in a statement. "Our legislation will stop foreign governments from managing, controlling or owning U.S. port operations."

The bill also requires the President to conduct a study on existing foreign-owned companies operating in U.S. ports and recommend to Congress how to handle any resulting national security risks within 30 days after the law's enactment.The President has vowed to veto any legislation that halts the takeover by Dubai Ports World, and White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters during a briefing that Bush's position has not changed.

The federal Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. conducted a 30-day review of the acquisition and gave the nod to proceed. The Bush administration hoped to avert a showdown in Congress by accepting Dubai Ports World's offer to submit to a new 45-day review, but it is unclear how much support there is from Republican leaders. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.) has urged lawmakers to wait on the outcome of the investigation before acting on legislation delaying or blocking the deal.

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