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Congress seeking wider role after port deal

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Blunt (The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders will unveil legislation as soon as next week demanding a congressional role in reviewing the acquisition of U.S. businesses by foreign buyers, suggesting that the controversy over a now-abandoned Dubai ports deal will continue to roil congressional relations with the Bush administration.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is drafting a bill to require congressional oversight as the administration reviews foreign business acquisitions, a role Congress has not played since the Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) was created three decades ago.

A day after United Arab Emirates-based Dubai Ports World abandoned its bid to control terminal operations at six U.S. seaports, lawmakers and President Bush made clear the issue was not going away. In remarks to newspaper editors, Bush said he was “concerned about a broader message this issue could send to our friends and allies around the world, particularly in the Middle East.”

“In order to win the war on terror, we have got to strengthen our relationships and friendships with moderate Arab countries in the Middle East,” Bush said. “UAE is a committed ally in the war on terror. They are a key partner for our military in a critical region.”

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman announced that trade talks between the United States and the UAE, set to begin Monday, would be postponed. Spokeswoman Neena Moorjani said both sides needed more time to prepare.

Flush from what they see as a victory, members of Congress appear determined to insert themselves into matters of national security that they had previously left exclusively to the president. But their aggressive response has left administration officials – and even some colleagues – concerned that the longer the controversy drags out, the more likely it could alienate foreign allies, dampen investment in the United States and even slow the economy.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both parties pledged to overhaul the review process for foreign business acquisitions while moving swiftly on legislation to bolster port security.

House leaders also have decided to push ahead next week with a full House vote on legislation to kill the ports deal. The House Appropriations Committee approved the measure 62 to 2 on Wednesday, but rank-and-file members outside the committee have asked to go on record with their opposition.

Democrats demanded the White House release all documents related to Dubai Ports World’s acquisition of London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

Despite the assurances of congressional Republicans and the president, some Democrats also questioned whether DP World really committed to shedding its U.S. port assets Thursday when it pledged to “transfer” them to a U.S. entity.

“The port deal’s not dead,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.


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