Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu, who begins an official six-day visit to the United States today, is known abroad as the maverick of the Soviet bloc.
Securing greater freedom of maneuver in his relations with the Kremlin is one of his main objectives in becoming the first leader of a Warsaw Pact country to meet President Carter at the White House. It is his fourth visit to the United States in eight years.
But at home, Ceausescu, who has ruled Romania for 13 years, has a reputation for a government at least as authoritarian as that of the Soviet Union and he has become the subject of one of the most throughgoing personality cults ever accorded a Communist leader.
During nationwide celebrations in January of his 60th birthday, Ceausescu was described as "the first worker and soldier of Romania," an eternal youth" and "one of the greatest peasants of hunamity."
Last year people made homeless by a devasting earthquake were encouraged were encouraged to equate government relief measures with the personal bounty of Ceausescu and his wife, Elena. "Everything we have been given we owe to Nicolae and Elena Ceasescu," an earthquake victim who lost husband and child told foreign journalists brough to view her new apartment.
Later, however, there was open criticism of Ceausescu in the Jiu Valley region of western Romania, where 6,000 miners walked out in the country's biggest postwar strike. The strike was put down by authorities and altough there was to thorough shakeup in Romania's economic leadership, miners are skeptical that many of their grievances will be resolved.
Since coming to power in 1965 on the death of his patron, Gheorghe Gheorgiu-Dej, Causescu (pronounced chow-SHES-coo) has evolved a highly personal and paternalistic style of leadership. He energetically harangues senior party officials, factory workers, and Romanian people alike: a typical Ceausescu speech can last five or six hours.
The reasons for the Ceausescu personality cult are complex. Western diplomats in Bucharect believe that he welcomes and encourages the adulation for private, phsychological motives, but it also serves a practical political purpose.
By projecting the image of a strong national leader, Ceausescu may be attempting to strengthen his hand for dealing with Soviets.
Foreign observers concede that during his 13 years in power Ceausescu has succeeded in strenghtening Romania's independence and freedom of action on the international stage.
A Western diplomat remarked: "In foreign policy, he pursues what he considers to be Romania's interests. Since he remains a loyal Communist, this often coincides with Kremlin policies - but it often deos not."
The best recent illestrations of this independent Romanian foreign policy have been the Middle East and the Belgrade conference reviewing East-West detente. Romania is the only Communist country that has diplomatic relations with Israel and it was alone among Warsaw Pact countries in welcoming Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's peace initiative.
Both Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin have visited Bucharest within the past year and president Ceausescu was credited with encouraging them to meet each other.
At the Belgrade conference, the Romanian delegation openly epxressed dissatisfaction at the Soviet refusal to agree to a substantive concluding document strenghtening implementation of the 1975 Helsinki declaration.
While in the United States, Ceausescu will have two days of talks with Carter and other officials in Washington and will than visit New York, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans and Chattanooga. He will be accompanied by Stefan Andrei, who was named foreign minister March 23.
During his talks with Carter, Ceausescu will be looking for renewed American support for Romanias independence. He would also like to replace the present arrangement whereby Romania's most-favored nation trading status is subject to annual review on the basis of human rights preformed. Romania is seeking long-term tariff concessions that would open up the U.S. market to Romanian goods and encourage greater American investment in Romania.
Carter, in a recent interview with Agerpres, the official Romanian news agency, said that while he supports such a change eventually, "We have concluded it would be unwise to seek legislative changes at present."
There is a feeling of Bucharest that U.S. Romanian relations have cooled human rights campaign. Ceausescu has resented America criticisms of Romania voiced at the Belgrade conference, particularly dealing with barriers to free emigration.
Ceausescu's show of independence abroad has been combined with the maintenance domestically of one of the most repressive regimes in Eastern Europe. In speeches, he constantly stresses the need for internal discipline in order to strengthen national independence. The threat of foreign interference is in turn used as an excuse for demanding further sacrifices from Romanian people.
Over the last year, Ceausescu has been faced with several protests against his authoritarian rule. But, though a combination of force and political maneuvers, he has succeeded in defusing them all and his position appears as strong as ever.
Ceausescu had made it clear that he intends to stick by his overriding economic goal of enabling Romania to become a modern industrialized state by the end of the century.
In the view of many foreign experts, his basic strategy will also remain unchanged: to keep as tight a rein as possible at home while looking for as many friends as possible abroad.