- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said this week that Romania is expecting an invitation to join NATO at the next round of expansion during the alliance's Prague summit next year.

Romania and neighboring Bulgaria, he said, are "indispensable" for the stability of southern Europe. Together with Greece and Turkey, both NATO members, they represent an "important platform" in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, he said during a visit to Washington on Tuesday.

"I'm almost sure there will be a positive commitment to include Romania" in the new wave of enlargement, Mr. Nastase said in an interview. But he added that his center-left government won't complain if Romania doesn't make it again and will "continue to fight" to become a "credible member" in the future.

In the first round of NATO expansion in 1997, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were the only countries from central and eastern Europe to be invited to join.

They didn't become members until 1999.

Mr. Nastase, who was to meet with Vice President Richard B. Cheney today, held talks with several Cabinet members, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, as well as the secretaries of commerce and energy, Donald L. Evans and Spencer Abraham.

Mr. Powell and Mr. Nastase signed an agreement that allowed U.S. forces permanent access to Romanian territory, as well as overflight and landing rights.

"We are already acting as a de facto NATO member, and the rights of membership will come later," Mr. Nastase said.

The State Department said the accord is "indicative of the progress" in U.S.-Romanian relations and "reflects commitment to improve the country's interoperability with NATO members," providing for "U.S. forces to conduct training exercises with the Romanian military."

The United States "strongly supports the enlargement process," but "no aspirants should be prejudiced by history or geographic location," a State Department official said.

Mr. Nastase encouraged American investors to do business with his country, where a new law on direct investment had improved the previously overregulated environment.

A new $300 million standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund is not big in quantity, but it indicates the IMF's renewed trust in Romania, which doesn't have a good track record of loan repayments, he said.


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