28162 3/4/2005 16:48 05BUCHAREST548 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL 05BUCHAREST476 This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available. C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BUCHAREST 000548
STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/04/2015 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PINR, ECON, RS, MD, RO SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR PRESIDENT BASESCU'S MARCH 8-9 TRIP TO WASHINGTON
REF: A. A) BUCHAREST 476
B. B) BUCHAREST 429
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Thomas Delare for Reasons 1.4 B and D
1. (C) Summary: During the first few months of his mandate, President Traian Basescu has pledged to vigorously battle corruption, supported implementation of free market economic reforms and promised to steer Romania to EU accession in 2007. Basescu is intellectually and emotionally pro-American - a stalwart supporter of the U.S.-led Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) and firmly committed to transatlantic values and institutions. He views Romania's strategic partnership with the U.S. as the lynchpin of his nation's foreign policy and he will underscore that commitment during his March 8-9 visit to Washington. End Summary.
2. (C) Romania's new president, Traian Basescu, travels to Washington March 8-9 with the hope of cementing ties with the country he has characterized as "absolutely fundamental" for Romania's strategic interests. Intuitively and intellectually pro-American, Basescu and his team view this trip not only as important for bilateral relations, but also as central to what he and his presidency have come to represent -- a strong orientation towards the U.S., free market economic reform, and democratic change that brings Romanian democracy closer to the people. Throughout his political life, Basescu has earned a reputation as straightforward, plainspoken, and charismatic. A former merchant marine captain and twice-elected mayor of Bucharest, Basescu offers a populist touch that contrasts sharply with the previous political leadership known for paternalism, formality, and a lack of transparency. He has entered office committed to combating corruption and fully integrating Romania into European and transatlantic institutions.
Romania's "Orange Revolution"
3. (C) Basescu's upset presidential victory against former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on December 12 surprised even his closest political advisors and ushered in a new era of center-right government. Upon the initial release of results on election night, youthful supporters clad in orange flooded the streets of central Bucharest in a scene reminiscent of events in neighboring Ukraine the week before. In subsequent weeks he appointed center-right co-leader Calin Popescu-Tariceanu as prime minister, and rebuffed attempts by the then ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) to maintain a hold on the government and parliament. Basescu and Tariceanu asserted that they were committed to leadership untainted by corruption or communist pasts. As a result, the new cabinet they formed is the youngest in Romania's post-communist history, with an average age in the late 30's. It also includes many members with solid experience in the private sector and NGO community.
4. (C) In its slightly more than two months in office, the new government has implemented bold measures such as introducing a 16 percent flat tax on incomes and corporate profits and declaring the fight against high-level corruption as a national security priority. On the latter issue, there has been movement on several large-scale corruption cases, including a scandal involving the erasure of massive tax arrears owed by a politically connected oil refining company. In an attempt to redress some of the wrongs committed under communist rule, Basescu has vowed to open up additional files of the notorious former secret police for public inspection. He has also promised to reform Romania's inefficient and often corrupt judiciary, putting several agency heads on notice that he is closely monitoring their work and will be making personnel decisions based on their effectiveness in the near future. On another sore point, Basescu has already taken steps to make good on his pledge to eliminate political pressure on the Romanian media, a significant problem under the previous government. These actions have boosted his post-election popularity to new heights. He has publicly stated that he will be "the most hands-on president" since Romania's 1989 return to democratic rule.
Seeking Strong Transatlantic Ties
5. (C) During his presidential campaign, Basescu repeatedly made reference to what he called a "Bucharest-London-Washington" axis. He clearly intended to emphasize that his government would seek to strengthen Romania's "strategic partnership" with the U.S. and Britain. We understand such assertions have raised eyebrows in Brussels, Paris, and Berlin. Nonetheless, Basescu has refused to back off his robustly pro-American stance. When pressed by the media as to what such a special relationship would entail, Basescu has pointed to the importance of a U.S. role in the Black Sea region and Romania's solid commitment to the NATO alliance. More fundamentally, however, Basescu and his advisors have stressed that this policy orientation is grounded in shared democratic values, including a commitment to combating dictatorship and promoting freedom.
6. (C) In his public appearances and discussions with U.S. officials, including the President, Basescu will undoubtedly seek our endorsement of his vision of a stronger strategic relationship. Should he go into detail, we are likely to hear about Romanian desire to push forward on enhanced cooperation in the Black Sea area ) to include joint promotion of democratic values or initiatives to boost economic reform in littoral states. He may also raise the concept of a Black Sea Trust Fund to be located in Bucharest, along the model of the Balkan Trust Fund in Belgrade. Such a fund would be aimed at strengthening civic participation and democratic governance in the region. Romania has not fleshed out the idea beyond a conceptual phase, but Basescu may ask for our overt support. Finally, Basescu is clearly enthused about the &Orange Revolution8 that swept into power in Ukraine and here and would like to use the momentum he perceives to help jar loose the long frozen conflict between Moldova and Transnistria with the direct involvement of Romania. Washington should read the last point, at a minimum, as a desire to be included in the current multilateral framework under OSCE aegis (See also Ref A).
7. (C) Basescu and Tariceanu have also reaffirmed strong support for a potential U.S. basing presence in Romania. They view such proposed basing as confirmation of the trust the U.S. has in Romania as an ally.
A Steadfast GWOT Ally: Romania in Iraq and Afghanistan; Emerging Strategy of Terrorist Preemption
8. (C) Romania has been a continuous supporter of U.S. led operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Basescu has vowed to ensure a Romanian troop presence in those countries "as long as necessary." Romania has maintained more than 700 troops in Iraq, and is deploying an additional infantry company for UN force protection. In Afghanistan, more than 400 Romanian soldiers serve alongside U.S. forces. Romania has made its military facilities and airspace fully available to U.S. forces. Basescu has pledged to support Afghan authorities in upcoming parliamentary elections and has promised to deploy a battalion in support of those elections.
9. (C) In general, the commitment to the GWOT, Afghanistan, and Iraq receives broad bipartisan support in Romania, with few calls from the media or opinion leaders for a departure from this policy. The Basescu administration has actively expressed support for the GWOT in international fora such as the UN and endorses President Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative. Finally, the Ministry of Defense has announced its intention to adopt a strategy of preemption vis-a-vis international terrorism. This point is to be made in a defense white paper that is expected to see further definition and the light of day in about 30 days time.
Forging Ahead on EU Accession
10. (C) Basescu and his government are staunchly committed to securing Romania's 2007 EU accession. This enjoys widespread political and popular support, though the average Romanian remains unclear about the specific implications of EU membership. Most view EU accession, together with 2004 NATO membership, as solidifying Romania's Western orientation after decades of communist rule. Basescu is slated to go to Brussels in late April to sign Romania's accession treaty, an historic step that will set in motion the final process for implementing EU-mandated reforms. EU member officials tell us Romania's membership in 2007 is almost certain, and would only be impeded by a major interruption in democratic governance or backsliding in anti-corruption efforts or other reforms.
Some Points of Contention: Adoptions, Awards, Accidents and (Business) Acrimony
11. (C) While overall relations with Romania are excellent, there are a number of contentious issues which have either eluded resolution or which, though moving in a positive direction, could benefit from the attention of the White House or other USG authorities. At the same time, at least one contentious issue is likely to be raised by the Romanians.
12. (C) The first issue is Romania's failure thus far to resolve over 200 pending intra-country adoption cases for U.S. parents. Although just a few weeks ago Basescu and his government pledged privately to create an international commission to review and resolve these outstanding cases, advisors in recent days have told us that pressure from the European Commission is making it "even more difficult" for Basescu and Tariceanu to carry out such a plan at present. A direct and pointed request from President Bush that these cases be resolved may offer the only possibility for moving the Romanian government forward towards setting up a commission. Basescu may agree to do so after key events related to EU accession take place in April.
13. (C) The second issue is the awarding in December by the previous Romanian president of Romania,s highest honor, the Star of Romania, to ultra-nationalist, anti-Semitic politician Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel immediately resigned his membership in the Order of the Star and -- along with prominent U.S. and international Jewish leaders -- continues to call for Romania to revoke Tudor's award. The U.S. Embassy similarly has pressed Basescu and advisors to take appropriate action. Basescu's team tells us the government is on the verge of setting up a process to revoke the award, with the mechanism likely to be in place before Basescu's trip to Washington.
14. (C) The new Romanian Government's apparent willingness to tackle business issues requiring considerable political capital and courage ) notably including high-level corruption, radical tax reform and labor code reform - have drawn plaudits from U.S. business. Nevertheless, compliments about the anti-corruption stance of the government should be linked with strong encouragement for appropriate prosecutions and effective implementation of numerous pieces of dormant anti-corruption legislation. We note that the absence of a mention of corruption will be taken as a sign of indifference, not an impression we should make.
15. (C) On the negative side, the new government has been dilatory in meeting some contractual obligations with U.S. firms or in addressing flawed privatization contracts put in place by the last government that clearly disadvantage a number of U.S. purchasers. In regard to the former, the largest project ever won by an American firm in this country has suffered from extensive contract reviews and payment delays. In this instance, Bechtel's 2.5 billion USD road project linking South-Central Romania to the Hungarian border has teetered on the brink of cancellation for months. Although some monies have just begun to flow, Bechtel is still owed about 90 million USD for work completed. In addition, we understand that privatization difficulties may be raised by Congressional interlocutors of President Basescu. If so, the complaints will likely relate to the flawed privatization conditions imposed by the last government that have prevented some U.S. purchasers from restructuring their new assets to become competitive. Noteworthy here are difficulties experienced by the U.S. purchases of 4x4 auto maker ARO.
16. (C) Finally, President Basescu can be expected to raise the December 2004 accident involving the U.S. Embassy Marine Security Guard detachment commander that led to the death of Romanian rock star Teo Peter. Basescu is under considerable political pressure to make sure justice is done in a Romanian Court. Naturally, given that Marine Corps legal proceedings against the former detachment commander have not even begun, the question of extradition and lifting of the Marine's immunity cannot even be addressed at the present time. Nevertheless, President Basescu may strongly ask for White House support for the Marine's return, probably repeating a promise made earlier to our Ambassador that the former detachment commander would receive a fair trial and, regardless of outcome, would not serve a single day in prison in Romania.
17. (C) President Basescu is a plain speaking man who is not inclined to dodge a problem. To his credit, his schedule includes a meeting with American adoptive parents and a visit to the Holocaust Museum. In these cases, his advisors tell us that he will address the irritations of both groups, though neither may be wholly satisfied with the progress made to date or the explanation of constraints on his freedom to act. On the question of the Marine and the death of the local rock star, the President has treated this extremely unfortunate event with dignity, not stooping to agitate the press for short-term political gain. That latter sort of behavior was characteristic of former PM Adrian Nastase, Basescu's erst while rival for the presidency. Nevertheless, nasty pressure from that same political quarter will compel President Basescu to make a plea for Romanian justice and the return of the former Marine detachment commander, so that he may demonstrate his ability to stand up for Romania.
18. (C) Despite the potential negatives, the overall accent should remain on the positive. Romania and President Basescu are extremely desirous of a closer strategic relationship and they continue to give substance to that desire with their unswerving commitment of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. They see themselves capable of further contributions and will strongly make a case for bilateral cooperation in fostering political and economic reform, as well as strategic cooperation, in the Black Sea region. Finally, Washington should note that President Basescu is an aggressive politician. In his domestic campaigning he was clearly a master of making his opponent react to him. Under attack, he can deliver a terrific counterstroke. But it is also apropos to note that he is inclined to act in what he sees as Romania,s interest, even if it breaks crockery. Specifically, Washington should expect a strong push from him to rethink the approach to solutions of the Moldova-Transnistria problem. Basescu is enthused about undisputed changes underway in South-East Europe and want to use those events to break the status quo.
19. (U) Amembassy Bucharest's Reporting telegrams, as well as daily press summaries, are available on the Bucharest SIPRNet website: www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest DELARE