Foreign investment in U.S. infrastructure causes security concerns

submitted for such transactions in 2009, compared with 155 in 2008, a former administration official said. The panel’s decisions are not publicly released, though the companies can disclose them.

Lipton notes that the Obama administration has approved most of the requests, including the proposed purchase by a French government-controlled company of a minority stake in nuclear power plants owned by Constellation Energy, which is based in Baltimore.

The administration, though, has alerted those involved in the Nevada gold mine deal that it will not approve the plan. “This is very difficult news to receive,” Terry Lynch, chief executive of Firstgold, said Thursday.

He and other backers of the deal say the administration risks sending the wrong message to foreign investors, particularly China, by balking at such transactions. In that case, China’s giant Northwest Nonferrous International Investment Company wants to buy 51 percent of Firstgold, its first purchase of a mine operator in the United States.

Administration officials, however, are increasingly concerned about Chinese dominance in the global precious metals marketplace. The Nevada mines are also close to military installations, including the Fallon Naval Air Station, complicating the deal, according to written summaries of meetings with Obama administration officials obtained by the New York Times.

Under the proposed Firstgold transaction, Northwest Nonferrous would gain majority control of mining leases Firstgold has on 8,300 acres of mostly federal government property in Nevada, at four locations. The most important site is the so-called Relief Canyon in Lovelock, about 110 miles northeast of Reno.

The federal review “raised serious and significant and consequential national security risks” associated with the proposed transaction at all four sites, pointing both to Fallon Naval Air Station and adjacent military facilities it did not name that most likely are classified, according to a summary prepared by lawyers for the mining companies. In questions it submitted to Firstgold, the administration also seemed to be concerned with what minerals other than gold a Chinese-controlled company might dig up at the Nevada sites or try to export.

Only once since 1990 has a president formally blocked a foreign acquisition. Typically, applications are withdrawn once serious objections are raised.

Firstgold and Northwest have until Monday to withdraw their application, or the recommendation of a denial will go to President Obama. “This smacks of anti-Chinese protectionism at a time when we need to be encouraging foreign investment to create jobs and expand our economy,” said Mark Nordlicht, managing partner at Platinum Management, one of the Firstgold investors.

Executives at Virgin Galactic, by comparison, say they remain confident they can clear up government concerns about the proposed sale of 32 percent of their venture to Aabar Investments of Abu Dhabi, which is controlled by the government there.

Virgin Galactic, created by the British entrepreneur Richard Branson and Burt Rutan, an aerospace engineer, has proposed building a spaceport in New Mexico, where a new generation of spacecraft would carry tourists into space and commercial payloads into orbit.

Lipton writes that national security officials participating in the review have questioned whether sensitive rocket and missile launching and fabrication technology might be shared with foreign governments as a result of the transaction, according to executives involved in the deal who asked not to be identified because details of the transaction are confidential.

The administration also sought to make sure that the deal would not violate an international agreement called the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) which is intended to prevent the global spread of missile-based weapons delivery systems.

As a result, the companies involved have agreed to resubmit their application for government approval, restarting the 90-day clock the government has to accept or reject the proposal.

“Aabar and Virgin Galactic remain committed to the transaction,” Jackie McQuillan, a Virgin Galactic spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Both companies are working together to secure the necessary regulatory approvals, and expect to close the transaction as contemplated.”

Lipton notes that the review of these and other cases is also been complicated by the fact that at the Treasury and Commerce Departments, which both play a central role in the foreign investor review process, the two top political appointees who are supposed to oversee the effort are still awaiting Senate approval. They are Marisa Lago, nominated to serve as the assistant Treasury secretary for international markets, and Francisco J. Sánchez, Commerce under secretary for international trade.