Dubai Ports offers to delay P&O takeover

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The Independent Online

Dubai Ports is set to open talks with the US government this week to try to allay security concerns over its £3.9bn acquisition of P&O, which will see it take control of five major US sea terminals as soon as next month.

The company said yesterday that it would be willing to delay its takeover of P&O to give time for a US security review, which could last for up to 45 days. It stressed that it was keen to show the US that its deal does not represent a security threat to the country.

In spite of the group's comments, the row over the deal escalated at the weekend, as Jon Corzine, the governor of New Jersey, where one of the five ports is situated, said that allowing the takeover would "fail the basic test of common sense" when it came to domestic security.

"It's a sad day for our nation when we have to go to court and pass legislation to secure the right of the American people to have questions answered and their security protected," he said.

The Dubai Ports deal has faced increasing political opposition over the past week, due to the fact that two of the 11 September hijackers came from the company's home territory, the United Arab Emirates. Eleven of the hijackers entered the US on flights from Dubai, while al-Qa'ida has also reputedly received funding via UAE banks.

On Friday, the New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, sent an e-mail to media organisations headed: "How can we be sure the UAE company isn't connected to those who want to harm us?"

As well as political opposition, Dubai Ports is also facing several legal challenges to its takeover. Eller & Co, the US joint venture partner with P&O in Miami, filed a petition against the deal in the High Court in London on Friday, arguing that there was no point in rubber-stamping the deal in London when there is still a chance that the US authorities would revoke their approval. Dubai Ports is set to seek approval for its deal in the High Court in London today - usually a formality. It is unclear whether Eller's petition will succeed in holding up the process.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the third busiest container port in the US, also filed a lawsuit last week, claiming that P&O's 30-year lease on the port should be withdrawn because the company failed to seek the authority's approval of its takeover.