A Face-Saving Dubai Deal in the Works?

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Moving toward a deal that could allow President Bush and congressional GOP leaders to save face and avert a prolonged confrontation, GOP officials said today that they were discussing the idea of having Dubai Ports World seek a new review of its acquisition of a British company's operation that runs several key U.S. ports.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King confirmed in a phone interview early Saturday afternoon to TIME that officials were close to a deal involving the Congressional leadership, the White House and the Dubai company. The agreement would call for a 45-day “CFIUS-plus investigation,” King said, referring to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a Treasury Department-run interagency panel that probes proposed acquisitions in the U.S.

Although the Dubai deal had already been approved by CFIUS, "the rationale for reopening it is, once DP carved out the American ports from the rest of the contract it changed the nature of the agreement so it had to be reviewed again," says King, who had been among the leading GOP voices opposing the deal as first approved without the extra 45-day review process or briefing of Congress. King says will await final details before formally backing any such deal. King added "If we are going to hold back on legislation, I think there has to be continuous congressional review throughout the new CFIUS review.”

If approved by all parties, the new deal would allow Bush to avert a GOP-driven bill to overturn the Dubai deal with enough votes to override Bush's threat of his first veto. Republican sources tell TIME that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee proposed the basic terms of a deal designed to give the White House a graceful way out, while also allaying the concerns of the many lawmakers in both parties who have said the deal could be a threat to our security. Under the Frist plan, the deal could stand a good chance of ultimately going through after the extended review. Frist aides apparently proposed the terms to representatives of the company and the White House late Friday. Neither has formally responded but both seemed interested in the idea, according to a Senate Republican aide. "This avoids a direct clash," the aide said. "It solves everyone's problem. The President doesn't have to cancel the deal or veto anything."

Under Frist's plan, the company would voluntarily separate U.S. ports from the rest of the deal for 45 days, allowing them to continue to operate as they do while the deal is re-vetted. That would allow a new review through the administration's Committee on Foreign Investments in the U.S. (CFIUS). Administration officials remain adamant that their first review was thorough and proper, so the face-saving element was crucial, according to one Capitol Hill negotiator. Frist is proposing that this time, CFIUS do the extra 45-day review that the law calls for in transactions where there are national security concerns. That provision was not triggered last time because administration officials had no remaining concerns at the end of the first review. This approach would eliminate the need for new legislation now, the Republican sources said.