WASHINGTON - The Homeland Security Department objected at first to a United Arab Emirates company's taking over significant operations at six U.S. ports. It was the lone protest on the government committee that eventually approved the deal without dissent.
The department's objections were settled in the government's review of the $6.8 billion deal after Dubai-owned DP World agreed to a series of security restrictions.
On Saturday, congressional leaders, the company and Bush administration officials reached for a compromise intended to derail plans by Republicans and Democrats for legislation next week that would force a new investigation of security issues relating to the deal. Talks were to continue through the weekend.
Under one proposal, DP World would seek new approval of the deal from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, given the company's surprise decision Thursday to indefinitely postpone its takeover of U.S. port operations. Other proposals included a new, intensive 45-day review of the deal by the government - something the White House refused to consider Friday.
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said discussions among congressional leaders centered on that issue. "It's my understanding that they are trying to build support for a deal involving a new 45-day investigation," he said.
King, R-N.Y., said he would need to see all the details of a compromise before deciding whether it met all of his concerns or met the demands of the legislation he planned to offer.
Despite persistent criticism from Republicans and Democrats, the president has defended his administration's approval of the deal and threatened to veto any measures in Congress that would block it. The company's voluntary delay in taking over most operations at the six U.S. ports did little to quell a political furor or to appease skeptical members of Congress that the deal does not pose increased risks to the United States from terrorism. Republican House and Senate leaders are to meet Tuesday to discuss how to proceed.
The company declined Saturday to discuss any potential compromise that may be in the works.
A DP World executive said the company would agree to tougher security restrictions to win congressional support only if the same restrictions applied to all U.S. port operators. The company earlier had struck a more conciliatory stance, saying it would do whatever Bush asked to salvage the agreement.
"Security is everybody's business," Senior Vice President Michael Moore told The Associated Press. "We're going to have a very open mind to legitimate concerns. But anything we can do, any way to improve security, should apply to everybody equally."