WASHINGTON – A Dubai-owned company abruptly abandoned its plans for managing U.S. ports on Thursday, defusing an election-year showdown between President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress over an issue that had become a political land mine for the GOP.
“DP World will transfer fully the U.S. operations … to a United States entity,” H. Edward Bilkey, the company’s top executive, said in the surprise announcement that seemed to spread relief throughout the Capitol and the White House. It was unclear which American business might get the port operations.
Just hours earlier, Republican House and Senate leaders privately told the president that Congress was all but certain to block DP World’s plans. Under pressure from a disapproving public, a House committee overwhelmingly voted against it Wednesday. The leaders told Bush the Senate would inevitably do the same, despite his threats to veto legislation killing the deal.
The company’s announcement gave Bush an out. He now doesn’t have to back down from his staunch support of the United Arab Emirates-based company or further divide his party on a terrorism-related issue with a veto.
The White House expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
“It does provide a way forward and resolve the matter,” said Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary “We have a strong relationship with the UAE and a good partnership in the global war on terrorism, and I think their decision reflects the importance of our broader relationship.”
Administration officials expressed surprise at the outcome. White House officials said the decision was the result of conversations between Congress and the company, and that senior administration officials were not directly involved in the talks.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said “upper levels of both governments” worked toward the result, including Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and emir of Dubai, who “advised the company … that this action is the appropriate course to take.” DP World’s statement indicated that Mohammed made the decision.