- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

NATO's southern flank

Romanian Ambassador Sorin Ducaru says his government this week will begin making a case for the southern expansion of NATO to cover the alliance's unprotected flank in the war against terrorism.

Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase today will deliver a speech at Columbia University in New York, where he is attending the World Economic Forum. Romanian President Ion Iliescu will press the case during his visit to Washington next week for the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Mr. Ducaru said Romania, one of seven countries hoping to join NATO in the next round of expansion, was encouraged by President Bush's call to create a "Europe, whole and free" from the Baltics to the Black Sea.

"There has been a strong visibility on the northern dimension," Mr. Ducaru told Embassy Row this week, referring to the efforts of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to join the alliance.

"The southern dimension offers a new frontier in the war against terrorism."

Romania, along with its neighbor Bulgaria, would link NATO members Greece and Turkey to form a solid southern core for the Atlantic alliance. Slovenia, another country seeking membership, would link NATO members Hungary and Italy.

The ambassador said Romania will host a March 26-27 meeting of prime ministers from countries hoping to join NATO. Latvia will host a similar meeting July 5.

"We are calling this the 'Road to Prague,'" he said, referring to the planned NATO summit in the Czech capital in November.

Mr. Ducaru noted recent criticism of NATO is ineffective in the war against terrorism and should be refocused.

"NATO's strength as it is should be preserved, resting on core values among the NATO allies. This should be used as a basis for the new challenge [of terrorism]," he said.

On another issue, Mr. Ducaru defended Romania's efforts to control corruption, which news reports say is rampant throughout the country.

He said his government had no complaints about remarks by Michael Guest, the U.S. ambassador to Romania, who in a speech last week warned about the spread of corruption.

Mr. Guest is a "good partner with the Romanian government" and "his professionalism is highly appreciated," Mr. Ducaru said.

Latvian visitor

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga next week will follow up on a Washington visit by Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus to lobby for Baltic membership in NATO.

Mrs. Vike-Freiberga is due to meet congressional leaders at a Feb. 5 luncheon and later deliver a lecture on the Atlantic alliance at Georgetown University.

The three Baltic nations Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania share the same foreign-policy goals of joining NATO and the European Union.

Mr. Adamkus interrupted his Mexican vacation to accept an invitation to President Bush's State of the Union speech. He also met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to press the case for the Baltics.

Mr. Powell gave a "positive evaluation" of Lithuania's preparation to join the alliance and said "historic decisions" will be made at the NATO summit in November, the Baltic News Service reported.

During her visit, Mrs. Vike-Freiberga also will open an exhibit from the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building.

Aid for South Africa

The U.S. ambassador to South Africa this week said Washington is increasing development assistance to the impoverished nation to create jobs, fight AIDS and strengthen the criminal justice system.

"The U.S. government will continue to work in partnership with the government of this country to alleviate poverty by creating employment and building skills for the 21st century," Ambassador Cameron Hume said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will provide $24.5 million in assistance this year, an 8 percent increase over the $22.6 million from 2001.

"USAID's program is set to remain active in South Africa through 2010," Mr. Hume said. "It will continue its purpose of strengthening the economic, political and social sectors."

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