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Romania: Premier Says His Country Has Much To Offer

The prime minister of Romania, Mugur Isarescu, visited Washington on Monday and said his country has plenty to offer to the West. He said Romania -- despite its struggling economy and rampant corruption -- can make NATO stronger, Europe safer, and the U.S. more secure. RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 23 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Romanian Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu says he sees his country as a valuable asset to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European economic integration.

Isarescu cites improvements this year in Romanian exports, construction and international trade over last year. He also says U.S. investment in Romania is rising, and the country's information-technology industry is improving.

The prime minister Monday told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank, that his government has drawn up an economic plan that would reform Romania's economy structure and reduce the debt burden on business. This plan will be submitted later this month to officials of the European Union in Brussels. He stressed that it is in line with recommendations made by both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

On security matters, Isarescu cited a statement of solidarity signed in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Friday (May 19) by nine former Soviet-bloc nations who hope to join NATO together by 2002. Romania, he said, would be a valuable asset to the West as part of this coalition.

"Uniting in a coalition of Europe's new democracies, Romania can be a significant added value dedicated to making NATO stronger, Europe safer, and America more secure."

The prime minister, who later met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, said his country has taken a forward-looking approach to reuniting with the rest of Europe, and with the West as a whole.

"Not being part of the problem is important. Trying to be part of the solution is essential."

Isarescu's confident demeanor, however, did not impress Gary Dempsey, a specialist in Eastern European issues at the Cato Institute, a Washington think-tank. He told RFE/RL that Romania has little to offer the West, at least for now. The country's economy may have been improving over the past year, Dempsey says, but it could not have declined further than it was.

"For 10 years now, the economy of Romania has been in dire straits, and it's getting worse recently. In fact, it has not been able to return to its level of GDP [Gross Domestic Product] in 1989 -- it's still lower than it was back then."

Dempsey says corruption in Romania also is nowhere near being kept in check. And he worries that the trouble could become worse if former President Ion Iliescu returns to power.

"The current regime in Romania I don't think has been able to eliminate the problem. And I certainly think that the conditions will be getting worse if there is a regime change toward a less reformist-minded government."

As for Isarescu's self-assurance, Dempsey said such a strategy is not uncommon. He says this is particularly true in Eastern Europe.

Dempsey does agree with Isarescu on one vital point: Countries like Romania are more likely to be admitted to NATO and then as members of economic and security groups that include other countries in their regions.