- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

Southern strategy

The campaign for a southern flank of NATO began as a public relations effort to build support for Romania and Bulgaria to join the Western alliance, a top Romanian official said yesterday.

Since September 11, however, the effort has gained relevance as a strategic objective in the war on terrorism, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told reporters at a breakfast meeting.

"What was a nice photo op has become today a true mechanism of cooperation beyond NATO enlargement," he said.

Mr. Geoana, on a D.C. visit to build support for this southern strategy, noted that Romania and Bulgaria would provide a "springboard" on the Black Sea for operations against terrorists.

In addition, the campaign for those two countries has attracted the support of Greece and Turkey, old rivals in the region.

"When President Bush talked of expanding NATO from the Baltics to the Black Sea, that means Romania and Bulgaria," he said. "Since September 11, Romania and Bulgaria are more relevant in the war against terrorism."

Mr. Geoana said he is encouraged by his meetings this week with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and other top U.S. officials, who share a view about the new importance of the southern flank.

"We hear these positive noises coming from every quarter," he said. "We are at the crossroads of organized crime, drug trafficking, human trafficking and money laundering."

Romania lobbied hard for admission to NATO during the last round of expansion, which included only the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Mr. Geoana said Romania will be disappointed but not crushed if it is left out of the next round of expansion, expected in November.

Meanwhile, in Romania, U.S. Ambassador Michael Guest agreed that Romania's status in the United States rose after September 11.

"Romania from the outset entered the war against terrorism and neither offered safe haven for terrorists nor aided and abetted money laundering by terrorists," he said in an interview that appeared yesterday in the Adevarul newspaper in the capital Bucharest.

Mission to Haiti

The Organization of American States is dispatching a special mission to investigate political violence in Haiti.

"This is a critical juncture in efforts to find a lasting solution to the political crisis in Haiti," OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria said yesterday in announcing his five-member delegation led by Canadian diplomat David Lee.

"We want to move forward with all speed and are grateful that public servants of such caliber will be working with us on these complex issues."

Mr. Lee is a former special coordinator for Haitian affairs in Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The delegation includes three former ambassadors to the United States: Denneth Modeste of Grenada, Nicholas Liberpool of Dominica and Roberto Flores Bermudez of Honduras. Mr. Flores most recently served as foreign minister.

The fifth member is Alfonso Gomez Robledo Verduzco, a specialist in international law at the University of Mexico.

The Commission of Inquiry will investigate the Dec. 17 violence that tore through the capital, Port-au-Prince, after opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide attacked he presidential palace.

More from Bahrain

The U.S. ambassador to Bahrain came under attack yesterday in the country's heavily controlled press for asking students to observe a moment of silence for the Israeli victims of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Ambassador Ronald Neumann asked a student assembly this week to treat the Jewish victims equally after they observed a moment of silence for Palestinians killed by Israeli army reprisals.

"Bahrain categorically rejects your improper behavior and insults to our feelings in our homeland," said the newspaper al-Ayam, calling for an official apology.

The Bahrain Tribune also criticized Mr. Neumann for failing to be "sensitive and sensible enough to respect the values of the host country."

Mr. Neumann issued a statement defending his actions.

"I believe that mourning for the innocent lives being lost on both sides is the least we owe to our common humanity," he said.

Bahrain is the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

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