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"Objections to DPW takeover is a backlash on 9/11, not Islamophobia"

20 February 2006

DUBAI - US lawmakers" objections to a Dubai company"s takeover of US port operations is a backlash from the Sept. 11 attacks, not an expression of wider anti-Arab sentiment among American politicians, the top US envoy for public diplomacy said here on Monday.

In a discussion with reporters, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes said she didn"t believe the gathering objections represent a general Islamophobia among American lawmakers, as a Dubai newspaper"s opinion article Monday alleged.

"I would hope that is not the case," Hughes said. "I hope the people of the United Arab Emirates and the government will understand that in a democracy, there is a process of debate."

Hughes defended the Bush administration"s security review of Dubai government-held Dubai Ports World"s $6.8 billion purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

But "the lawmakers are questioning about security concerns in light of the fact that a couple of the Sept. 11 hijackers did come from the UAE," Hughes said. "Since that time, and over a period of years, the UAE has been a long-standing good friend and a strong partner in the war against terror."

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who plans to discuss the lawmakers" objections during a visit to the Emirates this week, has pushed for a more open discussion of the security oversight DP World has undergone.

"Secretary Rice says we will have to go to Capitol Hill and get the administration to explain a little more fully the thorough review that was done," Hughes said. "The administration will be doing that, I"m sure, in the days ahead."

Newspaper opinion articles in Dubai have blamed the US backlash on political grandstanding ahead of this year"s congressional elections and a general American sense of "Islamophobia."

An op-ed article on Monday in a local newspaper said the controversy demonstrates that "Islamophobia is rising and has become like an infectious disease that spreads amid political and media circles in the West."

Hughes arrived in Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, on Sunday after a two-day visit to Doha Qatar, where she attended the US-Islamic World Forum and implored regional leaders to wipe out terrorism.

Rice will also discuss during her visit US opposition to Iran"s nuclear program, which Hughes and other Americans allege is aimed at producing weapons. Iran has said the development is to be used to generate electricity.

"It is a threat to the neighborhood and a threat to the world," she said.

Hughes, who greeted reporters with a few words of halting Arabic, wore a necklace inscribed in Arabic calligraphy.

She spoke out Monday against caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) that have sparked deadly protests across the Muslim world.

"The cartoons were offensive. I can understand why Muslims are offended by them," she said.

Americans, Hughes said, refrain from using racial and ethnic slurs not because they are outlawed, but because of a general sense of decency.

"I think that could be a model" for the mainly European newspapers that printed the offending caricatures, she said.


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