Video: Bush on port deal: 'Don't ... worry'

By David Gregory Chief White House correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/23/2006 7:35:38 PM ET 2006-02-24T00:35:38

At the White House Thursday morning, President Bush once again tried to beat back criticism over the port deal, saying, "This deal wouldn't go forward if we were concerned about the security of the United States of America."

But at a hearing on Capitol Hill, Democrats insisted the administration task force vetting the deal dropped the ball by failing to launch a 45-day investigation — one they claim is required by law when a transaction could affect national security.

"If 9/11 was a failure of imagination, and Katrina was a failure of initiative, this process is failure of judgment," said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

"According to the 9/11 Commission, there's a persistent counterterrorism problem represented by the United Arab Emirates," added Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Thursday, however, top Bush officials fanned out to underscore the close U.S. ties to the United Arab Emirates in the war on terror.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Dubai for meetings Thursday night and the White House's Homeland Security adviser, Fran Townsend, argued the United Arab Emirates turned over a new leaf after 9/11.

"They have been critical allies in Afghanistan," Townsend said at a briefing for reporters. "They have been critical allies in fighting the financial war against terror. They've been critical allies in terms of our military-to-military relationship."

Still, the administration extracted extra security concessions from Dubai Ports World as a condition for the $7 billion contract.

As for security risks at the ports, one expert notes the UAE is among the world's largest seaports to allow the inspection of cargo prior to leaving its ports.

"The security concerns that have been expressed are greatly exaggerated," says Robert Bonner, commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service. "What you have here, I think, are a number of politicians who are overreacting."

Aides say the president will not budge from his threat to veto any attempt to unravel this deal, nor does he support an investigation. But officials say Bush would accept a slight delay for additional members of Congress to get briefed.

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