Bush Learned of Port Deal From Press, McClellan Says

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday that President Bush learned from the news media about the sale of a London-based company controlling ports in the United States to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates.

"It was getting more press coverage; that's how he found out about it," said McClellan. "There was no objection raised by any of the departments during the review process, or any concerns expressed about potential national security threats. And that's why it didn't rise to the presidential level."

In a $6.8 billion deal, Dubai Ports World wants to acquire the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which runs six major ports along the East Coast of the United States.

Citing national security concerns as two of the hijackers from 9/11 were from the UAE, Congressional Republicans and Democrats have voiced strong opposition to the deal, but President Bush defended the decision, saying he would veto any bill that would jeopardize the transaction.

"If this transaction were blocked, this would not change port security one iota. The Coast Guard and the Customs and Border Patrol remain in charge of our security," said McClellan.

President Bush has not vetoed a bill during his six years in office.

"This is not about control of our ports. This not about the security of our ports," McClellan added. "And let me be very clear -- one thing we will never do is outsource to anyone the control and security of our ports, whether that's Dubai or any other entity that operates terminals at our ports"

But he conceded that members of Congress should have been briefed about it sooner.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said on Tuesday that he would introduce legislation to delay approval of the deal.

He said the arrangement raises "serious questions regarding the safety and security of our homeland.

"The decision to finalize this deal should be put on hold until the administration conducts a more extensive review of this matter. It is important for Congress be involved in this process."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also weighed in, saying, "Outsourcing the operations of our largest ports to a country with a dubious record on terrorism is a homeland security and commerce accident waiting to happen.

"This United Arab Emirates government-owned and operated company could be perfectly qualified to operate ports around the world, but the question that needs to be answered is whether or not they can be trusted to operate our ports in this post-9/11 world," Schumer added.

"The administration needs to take another look at this deal," he said.

See Earlier Stories:
Bush Threatens to Veto Any Attempt to Block Port Deal (Feb. 21, 2006)
US Lawmakers Question Foreign Management of US Ports (Feb. 16, 2006)

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