Senator announces plan for U.S. entity to run ports

Opponents of ports deal say new development is promising, but needs more review.

Facing unrelenting opposition from Congress on a deal to hand over control of U.S. seaports to a United Arab Emirates-owned company, the firm on Thursday said it would form an entity to manage the ports.

"Because of the strong relationship between the United Arab Emirates and the United States and to preserve that relationship, DP World has decided to transfer fully the U.S. operation of P& O Operations North America to a United States entity," the company announced in a statement read on the Senate floor by Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va..

Warner said he had spoken with DP World Chief Operating Officer Edward Bilkey before coming to the floor. The announcement failed to appease Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who Wednesday afternoon offered an amendment to lobbying legislation to stop the Dubai port deal.

"This is a promising development," Schumer said, but he added Congress still must examine the setup to ensure DP World would not have "ultimate control" over the U.S. entity. "I ask my colleagues to vote against cloture at this point in time," Schumer said just before the Senate voted, 51-47, to not end debate on the lobbying proposal.

Schumer's amendment is the pending business on the bill, but Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is likely to pull the legislation from the floor.

The White House Thursday did not back off President Bush's vow to veto legislation scuttling the deal, but White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan struck a conciliatory tone, avoiding language renewing the veto threat and focusing instead on discussions with lawmakers.

"Our emphasis is not on trying to draw lines or issue veto threats, it's on how we can work together and move forward," McClellan said. "It doesn't mean the president's position has changed, it means our emphasis is on how we can work together to move forward."

But McClellan acknowledged that Bush did not repeat the veto threat during a meeting Thursday with GOP congressional leaders. While describing the gathering as a regularly scheduled session that also focused on a variety of other topics, McClellan said Bush raised the ports issue with the lawmakers. He said the group had "a positive discussion" and an "open exchange of ideas about how we can work together on shared priorities."

A senior Senate GOP aide said Republican leaders laid out the political landscape of the Dubai port deal and suggested the White House "become more active on the issue." Schumer said Thursday's White House meeting was an acknowledgement the Senate must take up the ports debate.

"One way or another, that amendment will be voted on within the next week or two," he said.

Senate Democratic Policy Chairman Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said Thursday he would offer the same amendment blocking the DP World takeover to the fiscal 2006 supplemental spending bill that was adopted 62-2 in the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

"It makes no sense to require law-abiding American citizens to take off their shoes and belts in order to board a commercial airline but then turn the operation of major U.S. ports ... over to a country that has direct ties to Osama bin Laden, and from which two of the 9/11 hijackers came," he said.