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Romania: Defense Minister Outlines Goals

By Lisa Kammerud

Washington, 26 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Romania's defense minister says his country will try to increase its defense spending slightly over the next ten years, but adds it will be difficult to do more because the nation is in the midst of complex economic and political reforms.

Constantin Dudu Ionescu made the comment Wednesday at a press conference in Washington. He is currently in the United States on a week-long official visit.

Ionescu says his nation's defense budget is 2.7 percent of the Romanian GDP (gross domestic product), but that long-term budget planning will try to raise this figure to between 2.8 percent and 3.0 percent of the GDP over the next ten years

By comparison, the Czech Republic raised its defense spending to 1.88 percent of GDP this year and aims for 2 percent by 2002. Hungary is at 1.8 percent of GDP and plans to raise it by 0.1 percent annually for the next five years. The U.S. spends 3.2 percent of its GDP on defense.

Ionescu says the military relationship between Romania and the U.S. is "very good." In fact, the main reason for his visit, says Ionescu, is to sign an important counter-proliferation treaty with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. Ionescu says the agreement, which will be signed on Monday, will include provisions to increase the training and material aid the U.S. gives to Romania.

Says Ionescu: "I will stress once again that for Romania ... the relationship with American ... armed forces is the most important. The main direction of reform in the Romanian armed forces -- first of all, the reform of human resources and education -- is [enhanced] by the relationship with the United States."

He says Romania is working hard to meet NATO standards and that membership in the international military alliance remains an important "strategic objective" for his country.

Ionescu says current plans for Romania's armed forces reform include improvements in personnel management, communications, and modernization. He explains that the funding for these reforms will come by reshuffling monies within the defense budget. He adds there is an ongoing project to reduce the number of armed forces personnel and devote the saved funds to improving military equipment and procedures.

Ionescu says he plans to meet this week with representatives of U.S. companies that manufacture military equipment. Discussions will focus on the possibilities for modernizing Romania's armed forces, he adds.

Romania's short term goals, says Ionescu, include improving the Soviet-built MiG 21 aircraft and inviting American companies to manufacture Cobra helicopters in Romania. He adds that American investment in Romania, especially by large defense contractors, is important because it expresses confidence in the Romanian economy.

Ionescu also stresses the importance of Romania's role in Central and Eastern Europe. He says Romania has especially good relations with the Balkan countries. He adds that Romanians are "very well accepted as partners in that region" because they have no current disputes with any of the countries there.

When asked about Romania's views of the conflict in Kosovo, Ionescu replied that this was a "very important issue" to Romania, because of the risk of a wider conflict in the region.

Ionescu says Romania and other countries should take measures to improve the economy of Kosovo.

He says the international community has a "responsibility" to invest in the troubled area in order to improve standards of living there. He adds that if a solution could be found to the struggles in Kosovo, it might serve as a useful example for the entire region.