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Bush defends ports deal, threatens veto

By Staff
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WASHINGTON, Feb 22 (Reuters) President George W Bush has rejected congressional pressure to step in and suspend an Arab company's takeover of operations at major US seaports and vowed to veto any legislation to block the deal.

''After careful review by our government, I believe the transaction ought to go forward,'' Bush told reporters aboard Air Force One yesterday. If Congress passed a law to stop the deal, ''I'll deal with it with a veto.'' The port operations erupted as a major political headache for Bush, whose fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill joined Democrats in questioning the deal.

Senate Republican leader Bill Frist added his voice to Capitol Hill outcry against the decision allowing state-controlled Dubai Ports World of the United Arab Emirates to manage ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

''If the administration cannot delay the process, I plan on introducing legislation to ensure that the deal is placed on hold until this decision gets a more thorough review,'' Frist, a Tennessean and potential 2008 presidential contender, said in a statement.

Frist's decision to join the fray was significant because as majority leader he sets the Senate's agenda. Other lawmakers from both parties said they already had legislation ready to go to block the decision by a Treasury-led interagency panel known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Along with state and local officials from the affected areas, the lawmakers were indignant about the deal's impact on the ports, considered vulnerable since the September 11 attacks.

Dubai Ports World is on the verge of taking over Britain's P&O, which now manages the ports.

''It's hard to believe that this Administration would be so out of touch with the American people's national security concerns, that it would use its first ever veto to save this troubling Dubai ports deal,'' said New York Democratic Sen.

Charles Schumer Bush said he was trying to conduct a fair foreign policy.

''I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a great British company,'' Bush said.

MORE REUTERS PDS RAI0550

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