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Sessions: Bush 'may get licked'

MOBILE (AP) — Alabama's two Republican senators favor more congressional oversight before allowing a United Arab Emirates company to manage any U.S. seaports, with Sen. Jeff Sessions saying President Bush "may get licked on this one."

"He didn't win a lot of friends with it. He can't run again," Sessions told the Opelika-Auburn News in a story Friday.

Sessions and fellow Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby have been critical of the deal that allowed Dubai Ports World to take over significant operations at six major U.S. ports.

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, said Wednesday that he was co-sponsoring legislation to put the deal on hold for a 45-day investigation and give Congress the right to cancel it. "If this deal isn't in the best interest of our national security, it should be canceled," Aderholt said.

The disputed deal does not affect Alabama's port operations and terminals in Mobile. They are protected solely by the port's police department, with oversight from the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs officers, port spokeswoman Judith Adams said Friday.

Gov. Bob Riley and Alabama Port Authority CEO James K. Lyons at a waterfront news conference Friday reassured Alabamians that the state's port is in "no way" part of the UAE controversy.

"This issue being debated in Washington will not affect the security of Alabama's port. The security of our port is today and will continue to be the responsibility of Americans," Riley said, standing before the 509-foot-long guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze, docked here for Mardi Gras.

Port security has been tightened since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when two of the hijackers were from the UAE.

"Generally, the UAE has been friendly. But the UAE, even if their leadership is friendly, there's evidence that people from the UAE have participated in terrorist activity," Sessions said.

He said the ports deal "provides an opportunity for a terrorist to penetrate, scout our ports and identify vulnerabilities."

Bush has defended the proposal, but Dubai Ports World on Friday said it would agree not to exercise control or influence management over U.S. ports pending further discussions with the administration and Congress.

Shelby was traveling out of the country on Friday, but in an earlier statement he was critical of the process that led to the UAE deal.

Shelby, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said from the Treasury Department's perspective the approval process worked. But from the Banking Committee's perspective, it "failed miserably."

Meanwhile, Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey who led the bipartisan probe of the Sept. 11 attacks, said the deal was a big mistake because of past connections between the 2001 hijackers and the UAE.

"It shouldn't have happened, it never should have happened," Kean said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

The quicker the Bush administration can get out of the deal, the better, he said. "There's no question that two of the 9/11 hijackers came from there and money was laundered through there," Kean said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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