WASHINGTON – Four U.S. legislators visiting this city at the heart of a collapsed ports management deal stressed Sunday the United Arab Emirates remained one of America's strongest allies in the fight against terrorism.
The lawmakers, all Republicans from Georgia, said the controversy over the ports deal was largely a result of lack of knowledge about the transaction, and political expedience.
"We have lots of partnerships [with the UAE]. This issue that came up was a firestorm more out of the ignorance of all the facts than anything else," Sen. Johnny Isakson said.
Isakson, Sen. Saxby Chambliss and congressmen Phil Gingrey and John Linder agreed the Emirates would remain a strong ally.
"Our countries have been friends and will continue to be friends," Chambliss told The Associated Press after meeting with executives from Dubai Ports World and Emirates Vice President Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.
Publicly, some U.S. officials said they had security concerns over having foreign companies control American ports. A Sunday editorial in one of the Emirates' leading English-language dailies accused the United States of racism and double standards.
"Other foreign-owned companies run U.S. ports — but they were not Arab. That is the message. And we got it," said the Gulf News editorial.
Linder said the use of fear tactics by some politicians to garner support was key in provoking the uproar.
"The American people thought it was a bad deal because they have been made to fear it. The Democrats jumped on it a couple weeks ago because we're in a political season, and Republicans responded to try and outdo them," Linder said.
Gingrey said: "There's no question that given the War on Terror, obviously that (DP being an Arab-owned company) had something to do with the concern, and the lack of knowledge the people, including U.S. Congress, might have had ... about relationships with the UAE. But I don't think it's a matter of prejudice."
The legislators said they were impressed by the security measures employed at DP World.
"All containers shipped out of Dubai are screened, and certainly, as a member of Congress that gave me a much more secure feeling as they explained some of their expertise and equipment that they used," Gingrey said.
Chambliss said: "The UAE is one of our strongest allies, and it's important for members of Congress to come over here, not only visit the leadership but also the people and see what's happening here."
The four said they had initially planned the one-day trip to further investigate the ports deal.