- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

European fears of a unilateralist shift in U.S. foreign policy have "subsided quite a bit" in the wake of President Bush's two trips to the continent, Romania's foreign minister said yesterday.

Remaining differences on issues such as the Kyoto Protocol on global warming are part of a much more "predictable relationship" between strong allies, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told reporters and editors at a luncheon interview at The Washington Times.

"President Bush has paid a tremendous amount of attention to Europe and European affairs, in both time and travel" said Mr. Geoana, who was Bucharest's ambassador to Washington before taking the foreign minister's post.

"People in Europe and in Romania know how the American system works, that the first six months of a new government are generally very hectic," he said.

"I sense that the concern in the early months about the new American administration has subsided quite a bit. Let's wait for the first year to go by and see how the team is forged."

Mr. Bush's June 15 speech in Warsaw has raised hopes across Eastern Europe that next year's NATO summit in Prague will invite several hopefuls, including Romania, to join the alliance. Mr. Geoana said Romania, which has the largest army and population of the nine candidates, has been working hard to improve its military and meet other criteria for membership.

As this year's chairman of the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Mr. Geoana has been involved extensively in two of the continent's hottest conflict spots: Chechnya and the Balkans.

With Western prodding, Russia has allowed OSCE observers back into the breakaway Chechen Republic, where a brutal Russian military campaign has failed to subdue local forces resistant to rule from Moscow.

Describing the OSCE presence as "very modest," Mr. Geoana said the organization is concentrating on "helping re-create some sense of normalcy" in the devastated province.

He said the OSCE also has tried to highlight the refugee crisis created by the conflict and has pressed Moscow to pursue charges of abuses committed by its troops there.

"For the time being, our results have not been extraordinary, but the political symbolism of our presence is very important," said Mr. Geoana.

In the Balkans, the Romanian foreign minister has been involved in preparations for OSCE-run provincial elections in Kosovo, where a NATO-dominated peacekeeping force maintains order in what is still technically a part of Yugoslavia.

Mr. Geoana said it is critical that the elections be "inclusive," that Serbs and other minorities in the ethnic Albanian-dominated province feel safe enough to take part.

"We're working like crazy because we cannot afford to have just Albanians voting," said Mr. Geoana. "We've been going door to door trying to get people to register, and we're pushing the Kosovo leaders hard as well."

He said the international community for now is focusing on holding the elections and building workable governing institutions inside Kosovo. The province's ultimate status whether independence, autonomy with Yugoslavia or a loose federation with Serbia will be settled at a later date.

The Romanian foreign minister said confronting the series of Balkan crises in Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia would have a profound impact on the vision Mr. Bush expressed in Warsaw of a "Europe, whole and free."

How the European Union and NATO handle the Balkans will "be a defining moment in shaping" the future of the continent and the strength of trans-Atlantic ties, Mr. Geoana said.

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