Dubai threatens to hit back - (No Free Lunch, Folks)
Dubai is threatening retaliation against American strategic and commercial interests if Washington blocks its $6.8 billion takeover of operations at several U.S. ports.

As the House Appropriations Committee yesterday marked up legislation to kill Dubai Ports World’s acquisition of Britain’s Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation (P&O), the emirate let it be known that it is preparing to hit back hard if necessary.

A source close to the deal said members of Dubai’s royal family are furious at the hostility both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have shown toward the deal.

“They’re saying, ‘All we’ve done for you guys, all our purchases, we’ll stop it, we’ll just yank it,’” the source said.

Retaliation from the emirate could come against lucrative deals with aircraft maker Boeing and by curtailing the docking of hundreds of American ships, including U.S. Navy ships, each year at its port in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the source added.

It is not clear how much of Dubai’s behind-the-scenes anger would be followed up by action, but Boeing has been made aware of the threat and is already reportedly lobbying to save the ports deal.

The Emirates Group airline will decide later this year whether it will buy Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner or its competitor, Airbus A350. The airline last fall placed an order worth $9.7 billion for 42 Boeing 777 aircraft, making Dubai Boeing’s largest 777 customer.

Dubai in mid-February also established the Dubai Aerospace Enterprise, a $15 billion investment to create a company that will lease planes, develop airports and make aircraft parts to tap into growing demand for air travel in the Middle East and Asia.

The family-ruled sheikhdom may buy as many as 50 wide-body aircraft from Boeing and Airbus during the next four years, according to Aerospace Enterprise officials.

The UAE military also bought Boeing’s Apache helicopters. Meanwhile, Boeing has been in talks with the emirates to try to sell its AWACS planes.

An industry official with knowledge of Boeing’s contracts with Dubai said that the company has been involved in the emirate and that it would take a lot “to knock” those relationships.

“Nothing about the [ports] controversy diminishes our commitment to the region,” said John Dern, Boeing’s corporate spokesman. He added that at this point the company has no indication that there is or will be an impact on the company.

Any repercussion to Boeing could put House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in a delicate position. Boeing’s decision to move its headquarters to Chicago has been seen as calculated to facilitate a close relationship with Hastert. He is against the ports deal, and his office did not return calls by press time.

Several businesses have expressed concern that the controversy over the $6.8 billion ports deal could damage trade with the UAE. Dubai is one of the seven emirates. The United States and the UAE are meeting next week for a fourth round of talks to sign a free-trade agreement. The American Business Group of Abu Dhabi, which has no affiliation with the U.S. government, said that Arabs may hesitate to invest into the United States, according to a report by Reuters.

A Republican trade lobbyist said that because the ports deal is a national-security issue blocking it would not be in violation of World Trade Agreement rules.

“In terms of them retaliating legally against the U.S. … I don’t think there are many options there,” the lobbyist said.

But when it comes to the emirates’ cooperation in the war on terrorism and in intelligence gathering, there is concern that some help may be pulled.

“If we reject the company in terms of doing the [ports] work, they are going to lose a lot of face. In the Arab culture, losing face is a big deal,” a former government official said. “We risk losing that help. It is not an empty threat.”

Posted by: Captain America 2006-03-09