Congress Sinks Port Deal


WASHINGTON, D.C.—By declaring today that it will give up its interests in U.S. ports, the United Arab Emirates may spare President Bush the immediate embarrassment of a political defeat at the hands of his own party in Congress. But it won’t take the spotlight off the U.A.E. royal family’s ties to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

Before the announcement about Dubai Ports World, Bush was sticking with his promise to veto any effort by Congress to stop the state-run firm from operating American ports.Yesterday, the House appropriations committee came down solidly against the ports deal, voting 62-2 to bar Dubai Ports world from operating several shipping facilities in the United States.

The White House acknowledged that congressional opposition might slow things down, but insisted the President Bush would veto measure blocking the deal. “Our focus is on continuing to work with Congress to move forward on this issue,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters. “The lines of communication are open. There are members who have concerns. We believe it’s important to work with Congress to address those concerns and find a way forward.”

There has been a landslide of opinion against letting the U.A.E. operate ports because of its royal family’s previous ties to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, whom various members have accompanied on hunting trips.

The opposition to the U.A.E. running U.S. ports grew so big it finally resulted in the little kingdom’s taking a modest swat at one of its prized residents, Viktor Bout, the world’s largest illegal arms dealer and a business partner with a U.A.E. prince. Bout supplied the Taliban with weapons and the Taliban in turn supplied al Qaeda.

Earlier this week, blogger Doug Farah wrote that after eight years of trying, the U.S. finally persuaded the U.A.E. to ground flights of Bout’s Irbis Air. It is unclear whether the grounding is permanent and whether it precludes Bout’s shifting ownership to another of his airlines operating from the Emirates.

Farah is a former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post who currently is an investigative consultant with the NEFA Foundation, a non-profit anti-terrorist group that is inquiring into the causes of 9-11.

For years the U.N. has been trying to get the U.A.E. to stop letting Bout operate there. He runs 30 different companies in the U.A.E. Despite sanctions by the U.N. and the U.S. Treasury, Bout has been flying planes in and out of the U.A.E. for years—carrying guns for rogue states and outlaws operating under contract to clients that include the U.S. military. The U.A.E., one of three countries to recognize the Taliban government, has made no move to stop him. The U.S. has repeatedly badgered the royal family to stop Bout, all to no avail, until earlier this week.