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Denver Post: Lewis: Dubai deal business as usual

by Al LewisThe Denver Post
February 25th, 2006

The Denver Technological Center and the Meridian Business Center almost fell into the same allegedly suspicious hands that now threaten to take over U.S. shipping ports.

Dubai Ports World, owned by the Persian Gulf monarchy of Dubai, is buying London's Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. for $6.8 billion. But on Jan. 31, P&O announced it had sold its Colorado holdings to Shea Properties.

The $150 million deal - which included several office buildings and 1,300 acres of land - came just before the flap over whether Dubai Ports World should be allowed to operate U.S. shipping ports.

Had this local deal not come together, would these two prized Colorado office parks become targets of national suspicion? Would certain members of Congress wonder if these were upscale camps for al-Qaeda? Would local Homeland Security officials start raiding office towers in search of terrorists?

"I think it would have been a difficult time for the Tech Center if we were about to be bought by Dubai right now," said Peter Culshaw, who headed the P&O subsidiary that held the Colorado assets and now works for Shea Properties. "But only because of perceptions."

Democrats and Republicans alike are raging against President Bush for backing Dubai Ports World's deal to buy P&O because it puts Dubai in charge of managing ports in six U.S. cities.

The government would still be in charge of security screening. But since 9/11, Americans have been told terrorists might ship a nuke into one of these ports.

Never mind that the tools of 9/11 were box cutters. "Arab company to take over U.S. ports" is still a scary sound bite. Congress is threatening legislation to keep Dubai from taking over the ports. Bush has said he will veto such legislation.

Amid this standoff, Dubai Ports World on Thursday said it would delay taking over U.S. ports. "We need to understand the concerns of the people in the U.S. who are worried about this transaction and make sure that they are addressed," said Ted Bilkey, chief operating officer.

This move will give Americans time to learn the facts. Dubai Ports World is not a terrorist organization. It's a capitalist one. It's a multinational corporation owned by Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates. This country runs a shipping port there and a vibrant tourism business. It boasts the world's only seven-star hotel, the world's largest mall and an indoor ski resort in temperatures that often hit 120 degrees. Millions of non-Arab Europeans go there for turquoise waters and white-sand beaches.

"It's called Dubai Inc.," said Pratap Chatterjee, executive director of Oakland, Calif.-based Corp Watch, a group that aims to hold multinational companies accountable. "They'll do business with whoever comes through."

It's also a place to dock U.S. Navy ships. Dubai is to Gulf War soldiers what Bangkok was to Vietnam soldiers, said Chatterjee, who recently visited the emirate. Unlike other Arab nations, there are alcoholic beverages and prostitutes.

To the extent it pursues capitalist aims, Dubai is a U.S. ally. And if Dubai had not won the bid for P&O and its ports, the next bidder was the Port of Singapore.

It's a big ol' globalized world now. So the question is whether Americans would be more comfortable with Arabs or Asians running its ports. Last year, Congress was not so fond of the Chinese attempting to buy a U.S. oil company, Unocal. To the outside world, it appears that Americans speak of free markets and globalization only when it suits their deals.

Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy in Washington, D.C., blames the general fear Americans have of Arabs on the Bush administration itself: it holds Arabs and Muslims in Guantanamo without charges, it approves of racial profiling, it engages in questionable wire tapping, it makes frequent references to Islamic terrorism.

So what else are Americans supposed to think when Bush starts defending the idea of an Arab company taking over U.S. ports?

Why does our leader seem anti-Arab on one front and pro-Arab on another? "It's not like Bush is pro-Arab," Husseini said. "He's pro 'people with a lot of money."'

Al Lewis' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Respond to Lewis at denverpostbloghouse.com/lewis, 303-820-1967 or alewis@denverpost.com.





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