- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2005

BUCHAREST, Romania — The president of Romania, a country with more than 800 troops in Iraq, said President Bush’s strategy for winning the war will have to be “adjusted” in the near future and that Bucharest should be given a bigger role in decision-making.

President Traian Basescu, whose country will be the first former communist state to have U.S. forces on its soil permanently, also said that it has been Romanians’ “dream” to host the American military since the days after World War II.

“We appreciate the strategy announced by President Bush” last week, Mr. Basescu told The Washington Times.

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The leader vowed that the Romanian troops — the fourth largest contingent in Iraq after the United States, Britain and Poland — will remain in the country as long as necessary. But then, still talking about Mr. Bush’s plan, he made a rare comment for a staunch U.S. ally.

The plan “will probably have to be adjusted a little in the future, and we’ll be happy to participate with our allies in determining the strategy with a maximum chance of success,” he said.

Asked whether he meant that Bucharest has not been consulted enough by Washington in decision-making, Mr. Basescu agreed, noting that his country’s input has been limited mostly to the area in southeast Iraq where the Romanian troops are stationed.

When pressed to elaborate on what adjustment he thinks should be made to Mr. Bush’s strategy and why, Mr. Basescu said he did not mean to be critical of U.S. policy, but that the plan should be amended to reflect the situation.

He also said he is confident that Iraq is on its way to democracy.

“If you allow me to be very frank, I’m more optimistic about Iraq than Afghanistan. The Iraqis have a tradition of administering the country,” unlike the “tribal organization” in Afghanistan, said Mr. Basescu, who has visited the Romanian troops in both countries.

Mr. Basescu spoke late Tuesday in a reception room at his presidential palace, where minutes earlier he had met with Miss Rice.

She and Romanian Foreign Minister Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu signed a defense agreement establishing a permanent U.S. military presence in Romania, a new NATO member.

“It is a confirmation that Romania has reformed its political and security system in the last 15 years in a way to be able to meet the requirements for cooperation with the American military,” Mr. Basescu said.

“Having the American military on Romanian territory on a permanent basis was a kind of dream of Romanians after World War II, although now the context is completely different,” he said.

Miss Rice told reporters before the signing that the new base would be used “for training and to enhance our capabilities and Romania’s capabilities to be able to do the sorts of activities that we are doing together in Iraq and in Afghanistan.”

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