Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu has said that his nation will continue to seek stronger ties to the United States despite his growing concern over the Carter administration's human rights campaign and threats in Congress to cancel special trading benefits Romania now enjoys.
Controversy over human rights and the most-favored-nation trading status Romania gained from the Ford administration could lead to "a confrontation of views on fundamental problems" and Romania "would not shun" the confrontation if it arises, Ceausescu warned Friday.
In a 90-minute interview with Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham in the Republican Palace here, the president indicated in cautiously phrased remarks, however, that cooperation with Washington continues to be a key element in Romania's efforts to loosen further the ties that bind it to the Soviet Union.
While generally avoiding discussion of his relations with the Soviet Union and his East European Communist neighbors, Ceausescu did make a rare, biting criticism of the Soviet media for an attack last week on Spanish Communist leader Santiago Carrillo and his concept of Eurocommunism, a nationalistic communism independent from Soviet guidance.
"The criticism leveled by the Soviet magazine was unjust and it is not in keeping with the kind of relations that should prevail among the Communist parties," Ceausescu said in response to a question. "Different views can always come up, but the debate should be carried out in a scientific principled spirit."
Ceausescu has consistently opposed Soviet efforts to integrate Romania more deeply into the Soviet bloc's economic and military networks and he has staked out independent tactical positions at international party conferences. The Romanian effort has been a highly cautious one however, aimed at not provoking Moscow. The Soviets withdrew their troops in 1958 but could reoccupy Romania at any moment.
Moreover, Ceausescu has not attempted any of the domestic reforms in communism that triggered the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Many foreign observers and some Romanians describe Ceausescu's one-man, authoritarian rule as the most tightly controlled in Eastern Europe.
Speaking withe little animation, rarely changing tone or expression and frequently sipping orange juice or water, the 59-year-old leader said during the discussion that recent moves such as ending of formal censorship, the release of some 19,000 youths from jails in a loose form of local probation, and the forming of new workers' councils to run industry would provide Romania with "forms of democracy superior to the classical existing ones."
Obviously chafing under the implications of the Carter administration's emphasis on an international standard of morality and perturbed by the debate in the U.S. Congress about Romania's record on Jewish emigration, Ceausescu parried questions on these subjects and tossed back at one point:
"You will not find here in Romania the type of freedom that exists in the United States. I have heard that a demonstration of former Nazis was permitted there under the Constitution. We do not regard this kind of freedom as superior. I don't want to criticize the internal situation of the United States, but I want to say that we are not going to allow such freedoms here."
A short, compactly built man with wavy silver hair, Ceaucescu spoke through an interpreter and paused frequently to consider his words. Seated near him were his principal foreign affairs advisers and top officials of the Romanian Communist Party, which Ceausescu heads as secretary general.
He returned repeatedly during the talk to Romania's dislike and fear of interference from outside. The president wove these concerns around detailed discussions of the Helsinki accords of 1975 and the Belgrade preparatory conference to study the implementation of those accords.
While Romanian officials will not discuss the subject, diplomats in Western Europe feel that the Romanians see the Helsinki accords on relations and exchanges between states and on human rights as vital international leverage and support for them in keeping the Soviet from snuffing out Bucharest's go-it-alone approach on foreign affairs.
Asked about Carter administration's statements on human rights, Ceausescu immediately linked them to the Helsinki accords. He suggested by implication that the human rights campaign endangers the Helsinki and Belgrade efforts and at one step removed, threatens the ability of smaller countries independence and noninterference in the internal affairhe way in which these matters [human rights] are being approached today is in a certain respect contradictory to the very spirit of the Helsinki documents. They run counter to the established course of observing each country's indepedence and noninterference in the internatl affairs of other nations. In Helsinki, our starting point was precisely the observance of each people's right to solve their problems as they saw fit," Ceausescu said.
"We are not shunning discussion or even a confrontation of views on the fundamental problems that separate the existing social systems," he continued. "But we believe that the priority at present is to do everything we can to find ways of further cooperation."
In a pattern that reflects to some extent his nation's approach to superpower politics - where the Romanians have never moved in opposition to vital Soviet interests - Ceausescu used his remarks to align Romania's stand on the substance of the Helsinki accords closely to that of the Soviet Union while suggesting some support for American views on procedure.
He repeatedly emphasized what diplomats call Helsinki's "Baskets 1 and 2," agenda sections that cover economic, technological, scientific and cultural exchanges among nations without regard to social systems. He skipped briskly over the "Basket 3" provisions on human rights and freedom of movement.
The Soviets want the full Belgrade conference, which will be convened later this year if the current preparatory talks in Belgrade succeed, to set out future provisions for implementing Baskets 1 and 2.The United States is seeking a review of the lack of progress on human rights in participating countries.
"There has to be a retrospective look on the past two years" at the conference, Ceausescu said. "But to be quite frank there are rather few things that can be mentioned on the credit side during that period. I don't see it as a festive gathering because the achievements don't justify such a spirit. I see it as working conference to resolve specific problems."
The dispute over most-favored-notion trade status for Romania and Jewish emigration seemed to trouble Ceausescu even more deeply.
Romania was the only Communist nation to be granted the special tariff privileges of favored nation treatment under the Nixon and Ford administrations although Poland and Yugoslavia were granted MFN status earlier. Ceausescu established good personal relations with both of the former presidents after welcoming them in Romania.
The current problems stem from an amendment that congress attached to the 1974 Trade Act in an unsuccessful effort to force the Soviet Union to allow more Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel or to the West. The act rules out trade preference for any country that in the view of the U.S. government restricts emigration.
An annual waiver can be granted if the White House and Congress agree, and Congress is currently holding hearings on the Carter administration's request that Romania be granted anew waiver, as it was last year.
Independent diplomatic observers feel that Romanians have established a credible record on emigration, and Israel, which evidently does not want to endanger the good diplomatic and economic relations it has with Romania, has never pushed Bucharest over the emigration issue. In the 1950s and early 1960s, an estimated quarter million Romanian Jews were allowed to emigrate to Israel.
In 1967, Jewish emigration dropped to half the 1975 level of 4,000, as applications apparently declined. The Romanians evidently fear they may come under attack in Congress. Ceausescu also left no doubt that local pride and his views of fair play have been wounded by the procedure.
Having to seek waivers "rather frequently is not likely to give a sense of stability and enduring character to our mutual cooperation," he said, adding that both Romania and American companies "are concerned that whatever they agree to today may not be valid a month from now."
"Any withdrawal of most-favored-nation treatment would bring into question the very existence of agreements between Romania and the United States . . . Romanian development took place without this treatment and it could continue without it."
"Unless discussions" on emigration and most-favored-nation status "are leading not toward approachment but to new obstacles and tensions."
Despite these concerns about relations with the United States, Ceausescu endorsed a recent trade agreement under which Romania will buy coal and invest in a West Virginia mine and said his country is prepared for more investments in the United States and for "U.S. ventures here in Romania."
Ceausescu's defense of Eurocommunism was the clearest statement on the subject yet offered by an East European head of state. A book by Carrillo was sharply attacked by the Soviet magazine New Times last month and the Romanian Communist Party's newspaper. Scinteia, foreshadowed Ceausescu's comments with an editorial gently criticizing the Soviet attitude.
"It is quite normal that the emergence of a new notion such as 'Eurocommunism' elicits a heated debate . . . There may be parties that like the notion and they certainly can adopt it. For our part, we stress the in accordance with national historical realities in respective countries and with a view toward achieving a democratic transformation of the society on the way to Socialism," Ceausescu said.
"In western Europe the very existence of antagonistic social classes or groups requires parties that represent such classes," he added, when asked about the contrast between the pledges of the Spanish, Italian, and French Communist parties function if the Communists come to power and pattern of one-party rule inEastern Europe and the Soviet Union. "The disappearance of classes requires social transformation of a radical character which requires longer term procedures. It is hard to say how this will happen," in Western Europe.
Romania's single-part system allows pluralism, he asserted. Formal censorship of the nation's newspapers, books, arts and other media was ended last week, he said.