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US security chief urges restraint after ports row

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Mar 13 (Reuters) The United States risks damaging its economy if it over-reacts to potential security threats, US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in comments published today.

In an interview with the Financial Times after a political furore in Washington over plans for an Arab-owned company to manage US ports, he said excessive controls could ''destroy our country''.

''We don't want to build a system that smothers us as a society, whether it is civil liberties or our economy,'' he told the newspaper.

''We do not want a regime in which we are so focused on risk to the exclusion of all else that we lock everything down and we destroy our country.'' State-owned Dubai Ports World said last week it would transfer six US ports to a US entity to ease fears the deal posed a threat to American security.

The company had been due to assume control of the ports after it bought British ports operator P&O.

Chertoff said suggestions that all cargo containers entering the United States should be inspected would be ''tantamount to shutting the ports down''.

He said the government should concentrate on ''intelligent security'' and avoid policies which ''burn down the village in order to save it''.

''If I were in the shipping industry, the maritime industry, the cargo industry ... I would be concerned about measures that would strangle business and put workers out of work in this country,'' he told the newspaper.

REUTERS AD BS0823

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