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Romanian Lobbies for NATO Bid

By Donna Abu-Nasr
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, July 15, 1998; 1:46 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Romania's president urged U.S. lawmakers Wednesday to support his country's bid to join NATO, saying democratic freedoms can be sustained only by a cooperative partnership with other free nations.

In a speech to a joint meeting of Congress, President Emil Constantinescu said Romania wants to be ``an anchor of stability in the sometimes storm-ridden sea of southeastern Europe,'' the troubled regions of former Yugoslavia and rest of the Balkan area.

``But for that anchor to keep steady, we need the acknowledgment and support of the United States of America,'' Constantinescu said. ``We, the people of Romania, have earned it.''

Congressional support is crucial to Romania, seeking inclusion in the next group of countries to join NATO. Champions of NATO enlargement on Capitol Hill say the expanded alliance will contribute to stability and security in Eastern Europe. Critics contend it could entangle the United States in a series of Bosnia-style peacekeeping missions.

Last July NATO invited Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join the military bloc but delayed consideration of applications from other formerly communist countries, particularly Romania and Slovenia. Western officials said they were unready either economically or politically.

No time has been set for a further expansion. It is likely to happen soon after the three new members are inducted into the alliance next year.

In the meantime, Romania has sought to strengthen its ties with Western countries and new NATO members, It has joined in NATO maneuvers, patched up long-strained relations with Hungary and offered to join Western action against Iraq during this year's crisis. It has also joined peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia and Angola.

In his speech, Constantinescu said his country welcomes the chance ``to share our part of the burden of securing a peaceful future for all of Europe.''

``You may always count on us to be vigilant guardians of the democratic values we share with you,'' said Constantinescu. ``Freedom must be maintained and defended on a constant basis. ... The best way to meet this challenge is by working in cooperative partnerships with other nations.''

Constantinescu also acknowledged that rebuilding his country's economy has been more difficult than Romanian leaders have anticipated. After communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed in 1989, Romanian governments established free speech and encouraged a market economy.

But the nation still suffers from corruption, political infighting and delays in privatizing state-owned enterprises.

Constantinescu is scheduled to meet President Clinton on Thursday.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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