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Analysis: Iliescu's Embarassing Retraction

By Bogdan Lefter

Bucharest, July 26 (RFE/RL) -- A joint statement on the significance of the U.S. Congress granting Romania permanent Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status was the result of a surprise meeting this week between Romania's President Ion Iliescu and his two main rivals in the November presidential election.

The joint statement read that permanent MFN was granted as "a result of the efforts both of the current Romanian administration, and of the opposition political forces."

Moreover, RFE/RL's Bucharest correspondent reports the statement adds that President Iliescu retracted an earlier statement he made last week claiming the opposition had not cooperated on gaining permanent MFN and taking sole responsibility for this foreign policy victory.

The statement continues: "The three political leaders agree to publically state that they will not use the issue of MFN for electoral benefits, and that there is an active cooperation among responsible political forces as concerns the major goals of Romania's foreign policy, especially Romania's European Union and NATO integration."

Correspondents are calling Iliescu's actions a "climb-down," an "embarassing reversal," and "an unprecedented step-back."

Iliescu's retraction follows letters from two members of U.S. Congress expressing disapproval of how Iliescu's administration claimed sole credit for attaining permanent MFN. Some members of Congress have asked President Bill Clinton to delay signing the MFN measure until after Romania's November election. But the White House told an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington that the measure will be signed without delay.

Attending this week's meeting at Cotroceni Palace with Iliescu were the president of the Democratic Convention, Emil Constantinescu, and the co-president of the coalition of the Social Democrat Union, former prime minister Petre Roman.

Analysts in Romania see Iliescu's action as motivated by uncertainty. And they say it displays a surprising recognition of the importance of opposition leaders Constantinescu and Roman, and might signal a form of 'non-aggression pact' for the upcoming campaign.

In addition to this, there is a growing constitutional debate in Romania as to whether Iliescu can compete again for the presidency.

Iliescu held provisional power after the execution of state and party leader Nicolae Ceausescu, until being elected president in May, 1990 and then in 1992. The constitutional debate centers on whether Iliescu's possible election this year would exceed the constitution's limit of two, four-year terms per president.

RFE/RL's Bucharest correspondent notes that last month's local elections show Iliescu's governing Party of Social Democracy losing popularity, while Constantinescu's party and Roman's party each showed significant gains. Results of recent opinion polls, expected to reflect recent events, are scheduled to be released soon.