Senators ask role for Congress in latest review of ports deal

March 04, 2006|By GWYNETH K. SHAW | GWYNETH K. SHAW,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Five Republican and five Democratic senators sent a letter to their party leaders yesterday, asking for cooperation in giving Congress a role in the Bush administration's latest review of Dubai Ports World's planned takeover of some operations at the port of Baltimore and five other major U.S. seaports.

In a letter to Senate Republican leader Bill Frist and Democratic leader Harry Reid, the 10 senators said they were "encouraged" by DP World's offer to submit to a more in-depth, 45-day review of its plan to buy British-based Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

The deal has been approved by a court in Britain, but a last-minute effort to stop the transaction is not expected to be resolved until at least Monday. The company formally filed for the 45-day review yesterday, but it was unclear when it would begin.

The senators asked for assurances that other parts of legislation they introduced this week would be addressed, including a promise to keep Congress apprised of the investigation, the opportunity for lawmakers to review the probe's findings for 30 days, and the power to veto the deal if concerns about the transaction are not fully resolved.

"If we need to press for a vote on our legislation or to introduce further legislation to achieve the goals outlined above, we hope you will work with us in the coming weeks," the senators said. "The administration must know that we stand united to examine and review this deal independently, and that Congress must have a role in determining whether it should go forward or be stopped as a result of national security concerns."

Republicans signing the letter were Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Democrats included Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, New Jersey's Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg, and Jack Reed of Rhode Island. All have raised questions about the sale of P&O -- which runs some operations at ports in Baltimore; New York; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia; Miami, and New Orleans -- to DP World, which is owned by the government of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates. The transaction was approved in January by a federal government panel, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which will also conduct the 45-day probe.

The deal is deeply unpopular with the American public and has prompted a flurry of legislation in Congress, some of which is aimed at undoing the deal. In the House, New York Republican Rep. Peter T. King has attracted 96 co-sponsors for a bill similar to the one proposed by the 10 senators.

After DP World voluntarily agreed to a new review, many lawmakers said they were willing to delay taking action to stop the deal. But they don't want to be surprised again. "This is a time-sensitive process, and I am hopeful we can work to ensure that the legislative branch has a voice in the final outcome," Snowe said in a statement yesterday.

Others are openly skeptical about the thoroughness of another probe, especially since President Bush has said he hasn't changed his mind about his support for the deal.

"While I am pleased the administration is finally undertaking the investigation it should have done in the first place, there are serious questions about both its willingness and its ability to act on the results," Menendez said in a statement. "With the president prejudging the outcome of the investigation before it even began, it is clearer than ever that Congress will need to take an up or down vote on this sale."

The new investigation does not affect the closing of the $6.8 billion deal between DP World and P&O, though when it will become final remains unclear. Yesterday, a Miami company that has tried to block the sale said a British court would consider its right to appeal a British judge's ruling that approved the deal. The American company, Eller & Co., said the British Court of Appeal would hear its petition Monday.

gwyneth.shaw@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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