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Romania: President Seeks Participation In Transdniester Talks, Multinational Black Sea Task Force

  • Eugen Tomiuc --> Prague, 19 February 2005 -- Romanian President Traian Basescu, in a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL, has called for his country's participation in negotiations to settle Moldova's dispute with separatists in Transdniester and for the creation of a regional task force to monitor criminal activities in the Black Sea basin. Basescu also spoke about relations with Russia and Moldova as well as outstanding issues with Ukraine. The president reiterated his determination to fight widespread corruption in Romania and called for the total opening of Romania's dreaded Securitate files -- an issue that still divides Romanian society 15 years after the fall of communism.

RFE/RL: Mr. President, during your recent visit to Moscow, you talked with President Vladimir Putin about Romania's readiness to participate in the talks to resolve the dispute between Moldova and its breakaway region of Transdniester. How did President Putin react to your proposal?

Basescu: We did not talk about our readiness, we argued about the necessity that Romania be involved in this process. I expressed a point of view, and I did not expect an answer from President Putin at once because this is an issue of analysis. But from what I felt during my discussion with President Putin, I believe that [the Russian position] is not one of rejection of this issue. It remains to be seen how things will develop. The most important thing for me, though, was that Romania make very clearly known its opinion about the Transdniester conflict -- that is, Romania must be part of the negotiations process to pacify Transdniester.

Relations With Moscow

RFE/RL: One cannot ignore the fact that in Romania's relations with Russia, some touchy issues still exist. The Romanian media criticized the fact that you did not discuss with Mr. Putin the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact issue and the situation of Romania's national treasure, which was sent to Moscow in 1917. How do you answer such criticism?

Basescu: In principle, such comments are a proof of naivete. The media like to think that Romanian politicians go to Moscow and bang their fist on the desk and demand the treasure and demand the denunciation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. In fact, Romania's whole foreign policy was limited to such vociferations from 1990 until now. In reality, Moscow is not interested by the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact anymore, and even in the bilateral Russian-Romanian treaty [of July 2003], this issue has been clarified. Moscow agrees to denounce the pact, simply because it has no consequences whatsoever for Russia. The territories which Romania lost under the pact are not part of the Russian Federation but part of other countries. Regarding the treasure, Moscow has settled the issue also in the bilateral treaty: a joint commission of historians was formed, the commission in working, documents have been exchanged, and a search has been launched to find parts of the treasure. A discussion about this issue would only have been a waste of time during a closed-door meeting, where I wanted to discuss something else than things already settled.

RFE/RL: But does the joint expert commission have a clear deadline for coming up with conclusions, or can it continue to do its research forever?

Basescu: This depends on the good faith of the two sides. But one thing is certain: The Romanian side has recently sent an important national-bank inventory to Russia. So the document exchange has begun, and I think it is hasty for Romania to start inquiring about the next step immediately after the document has been sent. The next step is that the Russian side and the Romanian will try to identify in Russian archives and vaults part of the Romanian treasure.

RFE/RL: Will President Putin come to Romania and, if yes, when?

Basescu: It is hard for me to say when, but I can say that certainly he will [visit Romania]. There was an extremely pleasant reaction [on Putin's side], I should say, at the moment the invitation was launched. I think that our Foreign Ministry has already relayed the official invitation. If it hasn't yet, then most certainly it will do it on [21 February], and I am convinced that President Putin will visit Romania this year.

Neighboring Moldova

RFE/RL: From the very beginning of your mandate, you have placed a lot of importance on relations with Moldova and supporting Moldova not only in resolving the Transdniester issue, but also in its efforts to get closer to the European Union. You have also talked about two states but only one people. How would you comment on Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's recent statement that in 1940, Bessarabia [Moldova's ancient name] was liberated by Soviet troops from under Romania's occupation?

Basescu: President Voronin's position does not surprise me. I can tell you that it depends what side of the Prut River [which separates Romania and Moldova] you are looking at the map from.... But I wouldn't begin a dispute around this statement, which is part of the Moldovan Communists' doctrine and the way they look at history. I regard it neither as a surprise nor as proof of bad feelings. For me, only one thing is important it all Moldovan political parties' strategy -- not only the Communist Party -- it is extremely important that all parties in Moldova have declared European integration as their main option. I have affirmed during my trip to [the Moldovan capital] Chisinau Romania's readiness to offer support for Moldova's integration into the EU in the future. Therefore, President Voronin's statement does not bother me and does not surprise me. For me, the most important thing is that President Voronin does not react anymore to our statement, that we are two countries, but just one people, and that we can find each other within the EU.

RFE/RL: Will Romania be involved in any way in the upcoming general elections in Moldova?

Basescu: Categorically, yes, in a democratic way, by sending some 400 observers to monitor the March 6 elections in Moldova. Furthermore, I can tell you that from our viewpoint, fair elections in Moldova on March 6 are a key, essential element in the evolution of Romanian-Moldovan relations. Fair elections, which will result in a legitimate winner of the will of the people of Moldova -- I think you noticed that I did not say "the Moldovan people" but "the people of Moldova" -- will be for us the starting point from where we can build together Moldova's path together with Romania toward civilized Europe.

Regional Influence

RFE/RL: There are several outstanding issues between Romania and Ukraine, such as the demarcation of the common border, the sharing of the Black Sea shelf, the Bystroe canal which Ukraine has been digging in the Danube Delta, and the situation of Ukraine's Romanian minority. Is there a new possibility for a breakthrough in bilateral relations, after President Viktor Yushchenko's accession to power?

Basescu: I am convinced that such a possibility exists. However, it is clear Romania must go ahead with its legal action at the International Court in The Hague [regarding the sharing of the Black Sea shelf resources], trying, at the same time, to negotiate with the Ukrainian state at all levels -- presidential, governmental, ministerial, and to begin with, at experts level -- for the beginning, to try to bring closer our positions, which are so much more differently expressed in the documentation presented in The Hague.

RFE/RL: Among the new foreign policy directions which you listed when you took office in December, you mentioned increasing Romania's influence in the Black Sea region. Could you tell us what specific strategies you envisage in the Black Sea basin?

Basescu: Categorically yes. This is the area where the three dimensions of crime -- narcotics, arms smuggling, and human trafficking [are concentrated]. This is an area of criminality where Romania must implicate itself, and has the means to do it. Not only has Romania a military fleet capable of participating in the control of what is happening on the Black Sea; but over the past months, Romania's military fleet obtained an excellent, well-equipped frigate. The interests of Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, [and] Turkey must be focused in this area, and we should probably establish a task force which should keep under control what is happening on the Black Sea. I would add that the Black Sea is of extraordinary importance in the perspective of the energy resources of the Caspian basin. Or, Romania cannot be a country left out of such interests.

RFE/RL: Mr. President, Romania's efforts to increase its regional clout seem to have serious competition, lately from Poland, for instance. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told "The Wall Street Journal" on 17 February that Poland is ready to assume a mediator role in Transdniester as well as the role of supporter of Moldova's European integration. How realistic do you think Romania's efforts to elevate its status as a regional power broker, since Romania remains a very poor country, ridden by widespread corruption?

Basescu: We do not talk about Romania as a regional power broker. Romania does not want to become a regional power broker but a participant in the processes. Of course, Poland's intervention, if it is accepted, is welcome. Whoever can contruibute to a solution to the frozen Transdniester conflict is, in my opinion, welcome. However, it is important that not too many "midwives" meddle in [the] Transdniester [dispute]. It might also be necessary for whoever wants to get involved [in the negotiations process] to justify their request. Poland has access to the northern seas, and through its friendship with us can also have an access to the Black Sea, [but Poland] is slightly farther from the Black Sea. However, if President Kwasniewski wishes to involve Poland [in the negotiations process], we can coordinate our efforts. I, on the other hand, see Romania involved in the Black Sea basin alongside its allies Turkey and Bulgaria, and not as a regional leader. Nobody can be a regional leader nowadays; we all have to unite our efforts in order to be able to achieve some major requirements in the Black Sea region.

Romanian National Security

RFE/RL: You have repeatedly stated that corruption has become a threat to Romania's national security. Can corruption hamper efforts to join the EU in 2007, which is Romania's No. 1 strategic goal? How serious is the situation now? Has there been any progress in the fight against corruption since you took power?

Basescu: The corruption level at the end of 2004 was indeed a threat for our national security. I maintain my statement. For the past two months, I have noticed that the whole system has been putting up resistance to change, trying to protect the way it has been functioning. Of course, there are some heads of certain institutions which have begun to move [in the right direction], but it is very difficult even for those who do want to move ahead. The system refuses a profound change, but I can assure you that I am not the type of president to realize after five years that the system has defeated him. I will defeat this system, no matter how consolidated it may be and no matter how much support it would have from the mass media it controls. A part of the media is controlled by certain interest groups which represent -- through their media force -- support pillars [for corruption] and for discouraging the fight against corruption. But I assure you that I will resist these shocks and I will change the system.

RFE/RL: The lack of total transparency regarding the opening of the former communist secret-police files is an issue which has divided the Romanian society over the past 15 years, and a real change of system is probably impossible without resolving this problem. A halfhearted attempt to partially open the files in 2001 has lost momentum after being hampered by lax legislation and obstructions from some institutions. You have recently said that you are in favor of total openness on the issue. Could you elaborate on what you meant by "total openness"?

Basescu: The archives of the Securitate must be given to the CNSAS [the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives]. There is no other way. Otherwise, we will continue to suspect each other, will keep thinking that honest people are occupying certain positions, while actually they are not honest. We will have to open the Securitate files totally. Of course, we are not talking about the operative files, after the 1990. But the Securitate files must be opened, and [the current administrator of the files] the Romanian Intelligence Service [the inheritor of the Securitate archives] will have to cooperate. I will introduce the issue for discussion at the first meeting of the country's Supreme Defense Council on 28 February. There we will have to evaluate with the support of specialists, the national security risks posed by total openness -- and I do not think that they will be greater than the risk of not totally opening the Securitate files.

'Security Axis'

RFE/RL: After you won the presidency in December, you spoke of the need for a security axis between Bucharest, London and Washington. Are you satisfied with the recent visit you made to London?

Basescu: I am extremely satisfied by the results of my meeting with [British] Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the perspectives of our cooperation, both in the EU and NATO and within alliance systems outside NATO is solid and beneficial both for Romania and the United States. The meeting with Tony Blair was extremely solid.

RFE/RL: Could you tell us about the agenda of your upcoming visit to Washington? Will you discuss Moldova and the Transdniester with U.S. officials, and will you advance concrete proposals?

Basescu: Categorically, yes. But I would consider it inappropriate to make public the agenda of the visit without the White House's consent. Maybe in a future interview.