Correction to This Article
A Feb. 6 article quoted Romanian President Traian Basescu as saying that he allows the CIA and other U.S. agencies to land planes at the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base. A transcript of the interview shows that Basescu did not specify the CIA or a base but said that Romania has a "high traffic of planes from different American institutions, mainly involved in national security." The article also said he denied the base had hosted a covert CIA prison. He was not asked specifically about a prison and did not address that issue, but said that Romania respects law and human rights in cooperating with the United States in fighting terrorism.

Romanians Eager for Long-Awaited Arrival of the Yanks

Villagers drive a horse-drawn cart through the streets of Mihail Kogalniceanu , a small town in southeast Romania. The Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Force Base will soon host up to 2,000 American troops on a rotating basis.
Villagers drive a horse-drawn cart through the streets of Mihail Kogalniceanu , a small town in southeast Romania. The Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Force Base will soon host up to 2,000 American troops on a rotating basis. (Travis Fox - Washingtonpost.com)

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By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 6, 2006

MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU, Romania -- Camelia Mohorea stood outside the Vascov Nonstop shop with a big bottle of beer and a huge sack of pig feed, waiting for a ride home and daydreaming about American soldiers. "If the Americans come, they will give us a better life," said the 43-year-old woman, puffing a cigarette as cart-pulling horses clomped by, hauling hay.

U.S. soldiers have been the talk of this poor little town since last month, when U.S. and Romanian officials announced that the Romanian air force base here would soon host the first permanent U.S. military presence in a former Warsaw Pact country. From the presidential palace in Bucharest, 130 miles west of here, to the humble pig and chicken farms of this Black Sea hamlet, the announcement has been greeted with undisguised delight.

"The dramatic wish of Romanians at the end of the Second World War was to be occupied by the Americans and not by the Russians," President Traian Basescu, a cheerful former oil tanker captain, said in an interview.

Echoing a widely held sentiment here, Basescu said that while Romanians were looking west and waiting for U.S. troops as the war ended, the Soviets swept in from the east, bringing a half-century of communism that kept Romania poor and backward while Western Europe thrived.

"It was something that was transferred from generation to generation that we would like very much to have the Americans on Romanian territory," said Basescu, who was elected in 2004 promising closer ties to the United States and Western Europe. Romania joined the NATO alliance in 2004 and is scheduled to join the European Union in 2007 or 2008.

The deal for the U.S. military presence here was signed in December by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Romanian Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu. Details are still being negotiated, but U.S. Army Col. Pat Mackin, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Europe, said troops could begin arriving by summer 2007. Mackin said the presence in Romania -- about 100 permanent headquarters staff members, and as many as 2,000 soldiers rotating through at any given time -- would be far smaller than at traditional U.S. bases in Europe.

Mackin said the idea was to have smaller and "more agile" forces in strategic locations in Europe, where the United States is reducing its troop level from a Cold War presence of about 315,000 to as few as 65,000 over the next decade. A similar deal is being negotiated with neighboring Bulgaria, Mackin said.

Basescu said Romania saw close military ties with the United States as critical to its own security, especially in the face of what he called the increasing traffic of drugs, arms and illegal immigrants across the Black Sea region into Europe. Military cooperation between the two countries has increased markedly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, he noted, adding that Romania's more than 800 troops in Iraq and nearly 600 in Afghanistan would remain in place as long as the United States and those countries wanted them.

In November, The Washington Post reported that the CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe as part of a covert prison system that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe.

The Post did not identify the Eastern European countries at the request of senior U.S. officials, who said the disclosure could disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.

Human rights groups have persistently identified the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, widely known as "MK," as a prison site -- a claim that Basescu has repeatedly denied.

He said he allows the CIA and other U.S. agencies to land planes at the base but has never permitted a prison or any mistreatment. Personnel from the CIA and other U.S. agencies work in Romania at a joint anti-terrorism intelligence center that opened within months of the Sept. 11 attacks, he added.


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