WASHINGTON – Weeks before one of its companies sought U.S. approval for its ports deal, the United Arab Emirates contributed $100 million to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, officials confirmed Thursday.
The Bush administration said the money it received from the United Arab Emirates was nearly four times as much as it received from all other countries combined. Other countries, including some in the Middle East, also pledged large contributions but have not yet sent the money.
The White House said the $100 million for storm victims demonstrates the close relationship between the two governments now caught in a firestorm over the potential security risks of state-owned Dubai Ports World running operations at six major U.S. ports.
The money from the United Arab Emirates was previously described by the State Department only as a "very large" contribution. The White House said so far it has received $126 million in international donations, including the UAE money.
The administration said there was no connection between the request for U.S. approval of the $6.8 billion ports deal and the UAE contribution. It disclosed details about the donation to support President Bush's description of the nations as important allies.
"There was no connection between the two events," said Adam Ereli, the deputy State Department spokesman.
Robert Kimmitt, deputy secretary at the Treasury Department, told senators Thursday that Dubai Ports World first approached U.S. officials Oct. 17 to discuss a proposed purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which runs significant operations at six large U.S. ports.
Kimmitt said the company informally approached Treasury officials to discuss preliminary stages of the purchase. A formal review of the proposed sale started on Dec. 16, Kimmitt told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The United Arab Emirates sent its $100 million Katrina donation on Sept. 21 using an electronic transfer to an account at the State Department, the White House said. Two-thirds of the money was given to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help coordinate aid to 100,000 families. The rest was sent to the Education Department to help rebuild schools and universities near New Orleans that were damaged by the storm.
The United Arab Emirates has long-standing ties to the Bush family. Records show the UAE and one of its sheikhs contributed at least $1 million before 1995 to the Bush Library Foundation, which established the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. The executive chairman of Dubai Ports World, Ahmed bin Sulayem, is not listed among donors.