WASHINGTON (AP) – A Dubai-owned company announced Wednesday it will sell all its U.S. port operations within four to six months to an American buyer, providing new details about its sales plans that were forced by congressional concerns over terrorism security.

Lawmakers who criticized the Bush administration for approving DP World’s earlier plans to operate in the United States said they were satisfied. Still, the House voted 377-38 Wednesday to formally express its opposition to DP World running any port terminals in America.

DP World, the world’s third-largest ports company, said that until the sale is finalized its U.S. businesses will operate independently. The announcement was the first time it described its plans for the newly acquired U.S. operations as a “sale” to a single, unrelated American buyer and indicated it would retain no stake.

Michael Seymour, the president of DP World’s U.S. subsidiary, said there was “already significant interest in the sale from American buyers.”

Asked whether a foreign-owned company with its own U.S. subsidiary might qualify, Seymour said: “An American buyer is exactly what we say it is; it’s an American buyer and we envisage it will be a wholly owned American organization.”

DP World said it would provide information about its business to “interested parties,” which it did not identify.

The new disclosures by DP World responded to questions raised since its vague announcement last week that it intended to “transfer fully” to an unspecified American company the U.S. operations it acquired when it bought London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. for $6.8 billion.

“It’s important for the company to continue moving forward on what they committed to doing, and we appreciate the step that they took,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. He praised the decision by Dubai’s ruler, Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, to sell the U.S. operations to preserve good relations between the countries.

Under the sale, DP World took over a U.S. subsidiary with significant operations at ports in New Jersey, New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia – plus lesser dockside activities at 16 other ports in this country.

DP World has said those U.S. operations are worth roughly $700 million. It agreed to the sale to quell a bipartisan furor in Congress.

“It certainly appears on its face to achieve what we want, and that’s to have a U.S. company running these ports,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “I think DP World got the message loudly and clearly.”

Another vocal critic, Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said lawmakers will continue to monitor the corporate negotiations.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” said Hunter, R-Calif. “We’re optimistic they’ll keep their commitment, but the need to secure domestic critical infrastructure extends beyond the Dubai Ports World deal.”

With the 377-38 vote, the House rejected an effort to strip from a bill language that would block DP World from running or managing terminals at U.S. ports. The vote was largely symbolic since the company had already promised to sell its American operations.

In an earlier vote, Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to force votes in the House on expanding government scrutiny of foreign investments. Democrats still planned to seek more money for port security, arguing that Bush administration hadn’t done enough.

Almost six in 10 Americans, 58 percent, say they support the congressional opposition to the Dubai ports deal, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday.

But people are still not sure whether transferring operations at the ports to an American company will improve security. Less than half, 46 percent, said that was satisfactory, while more than half said it was either not satisfactory or they were not sure.

Until the sale is completed, DP World said its U.S. operations will continue to be managed independently by P&O Ports North America Inc., the wholly owned U.S. subsidiary of the British company it bought. That sale was finalized last week.

The largest maritime firms are not based in the U.S., although nearly all of them own and operate U.S. subsidiaries. DP World’s suitors could include Seattle-based SSA Marine and New Jersey-based Maher Terminals Inc. At Miami’s port, an early critic of the Dubai ports deal, Eller & Company Inc., said it was considering an offer to buy out operations there and possibly at other ports.

DP World said Wednesday it had hired Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. of New York as its financial adviser for the sale. It also hired a New York law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, for legal advice and said it will continue to rely on the Alston & Bird LLP law and lobbying firm in Washington for help with U.S. regulatory issues.

Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, skirted questions Wednesday about whether the Pentagon has a backup plan if Dubai decides to retaliate by limiting the U.S. military’s access to its ports. Navy ships, including aircraft carriers, use Dubai’s ports, some of which are considered among the most modern and best-equipped worldwide.

“I don’t think it will happen,” Abizaid said during a House Armed Services hearing. “There are always ways to work around it … but it would be very painful.”

Associated Press writers Liz Sidoti and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this story.

AP-ES-03-15-06 1830EST

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