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Romania: Severin Confident Romania Will Join NATO Soon

Strasbourg, 31 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin says he is confident Romania will be among the Central European nations invited to join NATO when the alliance holds its summit meeting in July.

He says that he and other high officials in the new Romanian government are optimistic about the country's early entry into NATO because they sense a different attitude on the part of the alliance's secretariat in Brussels and, more important, on the part of some of its current 16 member states.

Severin says that the decision on which Central European countries should first be invited to join the alliance is "of course up to the member states," and that they will probably not make up their minds until just before the scheduled summit. But he believes that NATO members will recognize the changes that are occurring in Romania under the new government as well as the new constructive role he says Romania is playing in the area.

Romania, Severin believes, will soon not only be "a consumer of security but a provider of security" in Central Europe. That criterion is often cited by NATO officials and diplomats as a condition for becoming a member of the Alliance.

Severin made his remarks in an interview last night with our RFE/RL correspondent in Strasbourg. A former member of Romania's delegation to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, Severin was on a courtesy visit to the Council this week.

Severin said that the government that took office after elections in November wants Romania to be, first and foremost, "a strong voice ...and a stabilizing factor" in Central Europe and the Balkans. To that end, he said, Romania has begun to strengthen its relations with its neighbors, especially Hungary,

Severin said that "in only a few months we were able to change the atmosphere (and the character) of our relations" with Budapest. He said several factors played a role in that change: the inclusion of ethnic Hungarian Romanians in the government, its declared intention to transform "into reality" the Basic Treaty Romania signed with Hungary last year and, not least, his personal relation with his Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kovacs.

Severin explained that he and Kovacs got to know each other well during the time both of them were members of the Council's Parliamentary Assembly. "We worked together for many years." he said, "and we came to trust another."

The mutual trust, Severin said, has led the two ministers to explore ways of building what Severin calls "a strategic partnership." They have discussed the possibility of forming a joint Romanian-Hungarian military unit that, Severin said, would be designed to serve in peace-keeping operations. Within the next few weeks, he added, the Romanian and Hungarian defense ministers will meet to try to work out the details of the joint unit.

Severin said that several Western countries have offered help in establishing the bilateral military unit. He said, too, that the model of the existing Franco-German brigade was "very much in our heads" when he and Kovacs conceived the idea.

Severin acknowledged that if the "atmosphere" in Romanian-Hungarian relations has changed in a short time, building mutual "confidence" will take much more time. But on the Romanian Government's side, he pointed out, the will to better relations with Hungary is based on its policy of internal conciliation of all the country's minorities -- most notably, the large (600,000) ethnic Hungarian minority whose treatment has troubled bilateral relations for years.

Severin explained: "Our policy is based on the idea of involving minorities in the overcoming of Romania's problems --not only minority problems, but a-l-l problems."

Severin went to say that Romania is currently seeking to strengthen its relations with other neighboring countries. He said that the Romanian and Polish presidents recently discussed building a relation similar to the strong, treaty-based relation that Poland has with Ukraine. Bucherest is also dealing directly with Kyiv in attempt to devise a Basic Treaty between Romania and Ukraine. "We think," Severin said, "that a secure Ukraine is a support for a secure Romania."

In short, Severin summed up, the new Romanian government wants to play a major role in "building an area of security" in Central Europe. To do so, he emphasized, Romania must retain what he described as its current good relations with Turkey and virtually all Balkan states.