Friday, October 23, 2009

AP: Biden thanks Romania for its close ties with US

BUCHAREST, Romania — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Romania’s leader on Thursday and thanked him for sending soldiers to Afghanistan and supporting a revamped U.S. missile shield being planned in Europe.

President Traian Basescu, Romania’s top official, did not comment on the new missile plan, and it was unclear what role, if any, Romania would play with it. But after meeting with Biden, Basescu — who is running for re-election in Romania on Nov. 22 — said the two countries remain close allies. “Nothing has changed in our relations,” he told a news conference with Biden.

Biden’s one-day visit to Bucharest was part of a swing through eastern Europe designed to reassure Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic — all staunch U.S. allies — that America’s commitment to the region remains strong.

Romania has an American military base at the Black Sea, and Basescu also enjoyed good relations with former President George W. Bush. The former communist country currently has 1,045 troops in Afghanistan, and Romania provided hundreds of soldiers for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq for years before withdrawing them a few months ago.

“In Afghanistan, your forces are performing skillfully and in the toughest places, and toughest combat,” Biden said. “Your soldiers are warriors. Our troops are proud to stand next to Romanians because you … are incredibly competent.”

He also said, “I really appreciate your government’s embrace of the new missile defense architecture we are bringing into Europe. It is a better architecture. It has the benefit of protecting you physically, as well as the United States.”

The scrapped Bush-era project would have placed 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic to intercept long-range missiles from Iran. The Obama plan would include SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles at a former air base in the Polish town of Redzikowo, the same site that was to host U.S. missile interceptors in underground silos under the Bush plan. During Biden’s visit to Poland on Wednesday, Premier Donald Tusk supported the revamped U.S. missile shield.

A senior Obama administration official traveling with Biden told reporters in Bucharest on Thursday that the new missile shield is “driven by the security needs of our allies. Clearly the new plan has nothing to do with Russia and it was never about Russia,” the official said on condition of anonymity, in keeping with his delegation’s regulations. Moscow perceives the new plan as less threatening than the earlier one because it would not initially involve interceptors capable of shooting down Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, experts say.

Romania is not a close Russian ally, but Basescu told the news conference that “pragmatic relations are necessary with Russia and Turkey,” two regional powers, when it comes to issues such as defense.

After his meeting with Basescu at the Cotroceni presidential palace in Romania’s capital, Biden was to deliver a speech about regional security at Bucharest University.

Biden’s trip to eastern Europe also is designed to mark the progress the region has made since the end of communism 20 years ago.

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