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E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/22/2018 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, ECON, EINV, ENRG, MARR, RO SUBJECT: ROMANIA: LEADERS TELL FORMER SECRETARY ALBRIGHT THEY WANT STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP TO CONTINUE
Classified By: AMBASSADOR NICHOLAS TAUBMAN FOR REASONS 1.4(B) AND (D).
1. (C) Summary: Romania wants continuing U.S. commitment to the bilateral partnership and stability in U.S. policy toward Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region following U.S. elections this fall, leaders told visiting former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on May 22. President Traian Basescu told Albright that Romania strongly values its close ties with the United States and is concerned that any new U.S. Administration likewise recognize Romania's value as a strategic partner. Basescu and Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu each provided similar assessments of Romania's biggest challenges, saying the country badly needs investment in infrastructure, education, and health care in order to consolidate the economic and political gains of recent years and to keep Romania on a solid path of growth. The leaders also exchanged views with Albright on Kosovo and Serbia, Russia, energy security, and domestic health care. Albright was in Bucharest principally to promote cervical cancer awareness and prevention through vaccination, sponsored by pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck. She also met with new Foreign Minister Lazar Comanescu. End summary.
PRESIDENT BASESCU: STICK TO THE STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP
2. (C) President Basescu told former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that Romania needs the United States to "stick to the strategic partnership" no matter who wins the U.S. election this fall. Noting Romania's huge geopolitical investment in its relationship with the United States, Basescu said Romania is pursuing a regional-focused foreign policy that is broadly aligned with U.S. objectives on the international level. In that sense, both Iraq and Afghanistan fall beyond Romania's traditional regional areas of interest, but Romanians are there fighting alongside U.S. troops as part of "our share of the cost" for being a U.S. partner, Basescu explained. Albright said that if the Democrats win in the fall they will move thereafter to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq and to pursue a "more diplomatic approach," though "it will be harder than they think." Basescu responded that he sees no purely diplomatic solution in Iraq and that the military effort should be sustained. In Afghanistan, "our role is clear" and Romania will fully honor its NATO commitments, he said.
3. (C) In an extended discussion of Russia, Basescu said Europe and the U.S. must work jointly to convince Russia that its "imperialist role" must stop. Russia is actively working to manipulate EU decisions internally by influencing individual member states, and Romania is attempting to reinforce the message within the EU that only collective unity will be effective in the face of Russian pressure. "They (the EU) should listen to us because we have millennia of experience" dealing with Russian interference, Basescu said. Starting with Transnistria, Romania is watching Russian activities in "frozen conflict" zones carefully; Basescu speculated the Russians are attempting to create "new Kaliningrads" from which to project a destabilizing influence. It is in Romania's strategic interest to bolster democratic regimes around the Black Sea, starting with Georgia, he continued. Basescu advocated that the EU and the U.S. deal actively with both President Medvedev and with Prime Minister Putin, because for the time being "without Putin you won't get anything done" but "Medvedev won't accept Putin's control forever." Basescu predicted an internal power struggle over the next couple of years as Medvedev gradually moves to assert himself; "this will complicate our dealings with the Kremlin."
4. (C) A united EU stance is particularly vital with regard to energy policy; Romania is a firm supporter of the Nabucco pipeline project and is pursuing its own energy diplomacy with Central Asian countries to promote greater independence from Russia, Basescu observed. In his own conversations with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan, Basescu said, all expressed frustration that they can currently get gas to market only through Gazprom infrastructure; "they will embrace Nabucco" if the consortium partners, especially within the EU, can get organized. Asked by Albright about Kazakh President Nazarbayev, Basescu described him as an "enlightened communist" who runs the country internally with a firm hand, but is very pragmatic in managing Kazakhstan's energy resources and is determined to diminish Moscow's control and influence. Basescu acknowledged that Nazarbayev and his family benefit
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enormously from corruption, but said, "He can be a good partner for us. We'll just have to live with it."
5. (C) Turning briefly to the Balkans, Basescu asserted that Romania won't recognize Kosovo "for the next six years" because Romanians feel an affinity with Serbia, "the only neighbor we've never gone to war with;" Romanian voters will punish politicians perceived as anti-Serb. Basescu said he is in close touch with Serbian President Tadic and is determined to help push Serbia toward Europe and away from Russia.
6. (SBU) On the domestic front, Basescu views Romania's greatest challenge to be using effectively the current wealth of available resources ) especially EU structural funds ) to make the investments in infrastructure, education, health care, and environmental preservation that Romania needs to support long-term growth and competitiveness. He is determined to push through educational reform despite resistance from teachers' unions and plans to make this a central campaign theme of his party this year. Basescu also noted Romania's need for land reform to consolidate small individual plots into larger holdings more suitable for commercial agriculture. He dismissed the current rush to produce biofuels as a fad which is harming world food production and the environment. He told Albright he would support her call for a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination campaign to prevent cervical cancer, which kills an average of six Romanian women per day (more than breast cancer, and the highest rate in Europe).
PM TARICEANU: CONSTITUTION IS HOLDING US BACK
7. (SBU) In a conversation largely focused on domestic issues, Prime Minister Tariceanu told Madeleine Albright that Romania's greatest challenge today is to make needed investments to sustain high growth rates and to continue on a path of convergence with the rest of the EU. Foreign investment is a key element, and Romania offers many opportunities for U.S. investors; the recent Ford Motor Co. acquisition of Automobile Craiova is an FDI success story of which he is particularly proud, Tariceanu said. The PM agreed with Albright's observations on needed improvements within Romania's health care system and noted his government is greatly expanding cancer screening programs. He expressed strong interest in HPV vaccination but cautioned that the cost of the vaccine was a potential deterrent.
8. (C) Responding to Albright's observation that political and economic reform must go together, Tariceanu stressed that in order to grow and prosper in the future, Romania badly needs constitutional reform. The current constitutional framework is a "strange hybrid" between a parliamentary and presidential system which "gives too large a role to strong personalities who want to impose their authoritarian views," he quipped. As a result, Romania had wasted tremendous political energy over the last year on internal political squabbles. Tariceanu said he wants a system with better checks and balances and which isn't so easily influenced by "a wealthy few," but noted that reform would not succeed "until we have a political elite that really wants it." Tariceanu told Albright he expects national parliamentary elections to be held in November 2008 and hopes a governing majority will emerge which can push through constitutional changes.
9. (C) On foreign policy, Tariceanu said he is very concerned about developments in Serbia, and that all of Romania's leaders are united in a desire to support President Tadic and to push Serbia toward the EU. The PM affirmed Romania's "current position" not to recognize Kosovo, but added "we need a more flexible policy" and said he would discuss this with President Basescu. (Comment: The Foreign Ministry notetaker present later called the Embassy to ask whether this is indeed what we had heard Tariceanu say, noting the comment took him completely by surprise. End comment.) Tariceanu voiced concerns over Russia's efforts to re-assert itself as a great power and its "policy of energy blackmail toward the EU." Romania wants the Nabucco project to succeed but is grappling with Turkey's insistence on "too much control" over gas transit conditions. Tariceanu concluded by saying that Romania will remain a friend of the United States. Asked by Albright whether he intends to visit the U.S. this year, the PM demurred, saying a visit would be difficult prior to the parliamentary elections.
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FM COMANESCU: WE WILL BE NEIGHBORHOOD ACTIVISTS
10. (C) Recently-appointed Foreign Minister Lazar Comanescu opened the meeting with Madeleine Albright by saying Romania strongly values its partnership with the U.S. and trusts this will continue "no matter who wins the White House." Both countries have built a strong framework for cooperation, particularly through military ties. Still, Romania is eager to complement this with stronger economic relations, including attracting more U.S. investment. Despite occasional challenges like "the big torture of the highway" (a reference to Bechtel and the Transylvania Motorway project), U.S. companies can strengthen Romania's economy and contribute to the GOR's efforts to more equitably distribute economic growth outside of Bucharest, Comanescu observed.
11. (C) While acknowledging that his tenure will likely only last until late this year, Comanescu said he intends to "take an activist approach in our neighborhood" in line with both NATO and EU priorities. These include bolstering Serbia's Western orientation; pursuing closer ties with Turkey on Black Sea and energy issues (particularly Nabucco); working to improve relations with Moldova; and continuing engagement with Ukraine and Georgia to help position them for "positive outcomes" from the year-end evaluations agreed upon at the Bucharest NATO Summit. Georgia in particular needs support, but tempered with more pragmatism, Comanescu observed; Romania shares deep concerns about Russia's role in Abkhazia but will advocate a "less emotional" approach by Tbilisi.
12. (C) In all three meetings, Dr. Albright's unequivocal statements that U.S. leaders ) regardless of political affiliation ) appreciate Romania as a valued ally, and her acknowledgement of Romania's contributions and sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan, were very well received. Romanian officials, particularly President Basescu, were eager to hear her views on the U.S. political scene and to make their own direct appeal for stability and continuity in the strong bilateral relationship regardless of who is elected in November. Perhaps anticipating that he will be on the scene for a good while to come, Basescu's message to Albright was that the strategic partnership with the U.S. is the cornerstone of Romania's foreign policy, and he wants to keep it that way. End comment. TAUBMAN