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Bush, Romanian Leader Discuss Iraq, Visas

The Associated Press
Thursday, July 27, 2006; 3:55 PM

WASHINGTON -- Romanian President Traian Basescu told President Bush on Thursday to count on his government as a good U.S. ally in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush thanked the Romanian leader for the support and said Washington was working to resolve differences between the two countries over visas for Romanians.

"I told the president we're dealing with an immigration debate here in the United States and that I'm hopeful that we'll get a comprehensive immigration bill that will accommodate people who want to work here," Bush said.

Bush's proposal to establish a visiting workers program is tied up in election-year deadlock over immigration.

Basescu said Romania's biggest problem is not with people wanting to move to the United States, but students "which are more and more present in American universities," and business people. He suggested U.S. restrictions on obtaining visas are far more restrictive than those in Europe.

Bush said the issue with the visa policy originated "because of what was an overstay problem based upon a history of people traveling to the United States during a different era," when Romania was under Soviet domination.

"That's a bygone era, now let's look to the future," Bush said. "We want to work together on a road map to make sure the visa policy will work. And that's where we are with Romania, as well as other countries."

The two leaders also had been expected to discuss military bases the U.S. will set up in Romania and the future of Romanian troops in Iraq.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Romanian Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu signed a 10-year agreement in December to set up the bases. The Bush administration has embarked on a plan to redeploy U.S troops overseas so they can respond more rapidly to crises.

The facilities to be used in Romania include an air base near the Black Sea, which has been a part of U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Romania has just under 900 troops in Iraq.

"Your contribution, Mr. President, has been worthwhile and meaningful and I know the Iraqi people are grateful, and so am I," Bush told Basescu.

Basescu told Bush: "Romania will continue to remain an ally of the United States in supporting the democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, in supporting democratic regimes in these countries like a key of freedom on the area."

The two presidents said they also discussed tensions in the Black Sea region and the status of Moldova.

"We talked about the neighborhood, and I assured him that the United States position on Moldova is that we support the territorial integrity of Moldova," Bush said.

Moldova was part of Romania until it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and gained its independence with the 1991 Soviet collapse.

© 2006 The Associated Press