WASHINGTON – The Bush administration secretly required a company in the United Arab Emirates to cooperate with future U.S. investigations before approving its takeover of operations at six American ports, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. It chose not to impose other, routine restrictions.
As part of the $6.8 billion purchase, state-owned Dubai Ports World agreed to reveal records on demand about “foreign operational direction” of its business at U.S. ports, the documents said. Those records broadly include details about the design, maintenance or operation of ports and equipment.
The administration did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests. Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries.
The conditions involving the sale of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. were detailed in U.S. documents marked “confidential.” Such records are regularly guarded as trade secrets, and it is highly unusual for them to be made public.
The concessions, described previously by the Homeland Security Department as unprecedented among maritime companies, reflect the close relationship between the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
The revelations about the negotiated conditions came as the White House acknowledged President Bush was unaware of the pending sale until the deal had already been approved by his administration, which occurred on Jan. 17.
Bush learned about the sale in recent days, after it had been widely reported, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday.
Dubai Port’s top American executive, chief operating officer Edward Bilkey, said the company will do whatever the Bush administration asks to enhance shipping security and ensure the sale goes through.
Senate oversight hearings already are scheduled.
Under the deal, the government asked Dubai Ports to operate American seaports with existing U.S. managers “to the extent possible.” It promised to take “all reasonable steps” to assist the Homeland Security Department, and it pledged to continue participating in security programs to stop smuggling and detect illegal shipments of nuclear materials.