Bush wasnt aware of port sell decision by white house
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Bush Unaware of Ports Deal Before Approval
White House Says Bush Wasn't Aware of Deal to Sell Port Operations to Arab Firm Before Approval
By TED BRIDIS
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON Feb 22, 2006 (AP)—
WASHINGTON - President Bush was unaware of the pending sale of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports to a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates until the deal already had been approved by his administration, the White House said Wednesday.
Defending the deal anew, the administration also said that it should have briefed Congress sooner about the transaction, which has triggered a major political backlash among both Republicans and Democrats.
Bush on Tuesday brushed aside objections by leaders in the Senate and House that the $6.8 billion sale could raise risks of terrorism at American ports. In a forceful defense of his administration's earlier approval of the deal, he pledged to veto any bill Congress might approve to block the agreement involving the sale of a British company to the Arab firm.
Bush faces a rebellion from leaders of his own party, as well as from Democrats, about the deal that would put Dubai Ports in charge of major shipping operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.
While Bush has adamantly defended the deal, the White House acknowledged that he did not know about it until recently.
"He became aware of it over the last several days," McClellan said. Asked if Bush did not know about it until it was a done deal, McClellan said, "That's correct." He said the matter did not rise to the presidential level, but went through a congressionally-mandated review process and was determined not to pose a national security threat.
"The president made sure to check with all the Cabinet secretaries that are part of this process, or whose agencies or departments are part of this process," the spokesman said. "He made sure to check with them even after this got more attention in the press, to make sure that they were comfortable with the decision that was made."
"And every one of the Cabinet secretaries expressed that they were comfortable with this transaction being approved," he said.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Guiterrez, told The Associated Press in an interview: "They are not in charge of security. We are not turning over the security of our ports. When people make statements like that you get an instant emotional reaction."
The sale's harshest critics were not appeased.
"I will fight harder than ever for this legislation, and if it is vetoed I will fight as hard as I can to override it," said Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. King and Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said they will introduce emergency legislation to suspend the ports deal.
Another Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, urged his colleagues to force Bush to wield his veto, which Bush in his sixth year in office has never done. "We should really test the resolve of the president on this one because what we're really doing is securing the safety of our people."
McClellan dismissed any connection between the deal and David Sanborn of Virginia, a former senior DP World executive whom the White House appointed last month to be the new administrator of the Maritime Administration of the Transportation Department. Sanborn worked as DP World's director of operations for Europe and Latin America.
"My understanding is that he has assured us that he was not involved in the negotiations to purchase this British company," McClellan added.
"In terms of David Sanborn, he was nominated to run the Maritime Administration because of his experience and expertise," the spokesman said. Sanborn is a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He is an operations professional.
Earlier, several lawmakers determined to capsize the pending sale said they would not be deterred by Bush's veto threat.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said the bipartisan opposition to the deal indicated "a lack of confidence in the administration" on both sides. "Sure, we have to link up with our Arab friends but ... we want to see and those in Congress want to know what ... safeguards are built in," Biden said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Bush's veto threat sought to quiet a political storm that has united Republican governors and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee with liberal Democrats, including New York Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Schumer.
To assuage concerns, the administration disclosed some assurances it negotiated with Dubai Ports. It required mandatory participation in U.S. security programs to stop smuggling and detect illegal shipments of nuclear materials; roughly 33 other port companies participate in these voluntarily. The Coast Guard also said it was nearly finished inspecting Dubai Ports' facilities in the United States.
Frist said Tuesday, before Bush's comments, that he would introduce legislation to put the sale on hold if the White House did not delay the takeover. He said the deal raised "serious questions regarding the safety and security of our homeland.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., asked the president for a moratorium on the sale until it could be studied further. "We must not allow the possibility of compromising our national security due to lack of review or oversight by the federal government," Hastert said.
Bush took the rare step of calling reporters to his conference room on Air Force One after returning from a speech in Colorado. He also stopped to talk before television cameras after he returned to the White House.
He said that members of Congress "need to know that our government has looked at this issue and looked at it carefully."
A senior executive from Dubai Ports World pledged the company would agree to whatever security precautions the U.S. government demanded to salvage the deal. Chief operating officer Edward "Ted" H. Bilkey promised Dubai Ports "will fully cooperate in putting into place whatever is necessary to protect the terminals."
Lawmakers from both parties have noted that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the United Arab Emirates as an operational and financial base. In addition, critics contend the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.
Associated Press writers Ben Feller, Will Lester, Terence Hunt, and Devlin Barrett in Washington, Matthew Verrinder in Newark, N.J., and Tom Stuckey in Annapolis, Md., contributed to this report.
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