Friday, November 27, 2009

Embassy Row-Mircea Geoana

The Washington Times
Friday, November 27, 2009
Embassy Row

James Morrison


The next president of Romania could be a very familiar face in Washington.

Mircea Geoana, ambassador to the United States during the 1990s, is currently locked in a tight political fight for the presidency in a Dec. 6 runoff election. The leader of Romania's Social Democratic Party stands an even chance of unseating the current president, conservative Traian Basescu. Mr. Geoana won 31.16 percent of the vote in Sunday's first round of voting, while Mr. Basescu got 32.43 percent.

Mr. Geoana rose swiftly through the ranks of Romanian politics from his service as a fresh-faced young diplomat who arrived in Washington in 1996 at the age of 37. At the time, he was Romania's youngest ambassador, representing a reborn country that had struggled to cast off a brutal communist dictatorship just over six years earlier.

He served as ambassador until 2000, when he was appointed foreign minister. He continued to travel to Washington for top-level meetings or news conferences at the National Press Club, still retaining his high profile in the U.S. capital. By 2007, Mr. Geoana was a member of the Romanian Senate and chairman of its prestigious Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Geoana came to Washington to replace Ambassador Mihai Botez, who died in July 1995 on a home visit to Romania. He arrived in Washington in January 1996 and immediately began campaigning to raise Romania's profile from that of a backward nation under the communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.

By March, the ambassador was concluding a deal for a new nuclear power plant with U.S., Canadian, German and Italian investors.

"It will be the first Western-styled nuclear reactor in Central-Eastern Europe," he said at the time.

Although he is now an outspoken socialist, Mr. Geoana was a strong advocate of free-market capitalism as ambassador. He boasted about a new Romania stock exchange, saying, "We are re-entering the capital market after 60 years."

By June, Mr. Geoana was helping plan a visit to Romania for Hillary Rodham Clinton, then first lady.

"She is first lady of the first nation on the planet," he told Embassy Row at the time.

Throughout his years in Washington, Mr. Geoana kept lobbying for Romania's inclusion in NATO in what would be a rollicking lottery of former communist nations competing for membership in the first expansion of the Western alliance since the fall of the Berlin Wall. That goal would elude Romania until 2004.

As foreign minister, Mr. Geoana continued to promote ties with the United States, endorsing the war against Iraq's Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Mr. Geoana turned against free markets, as he drifted toward socialism after becoming disenchanted with what he saw as a failure of capitalism to improve the lives of Romanians.

Last year, he told the Associated Press in Bucharest that Romania needed a new revolution.

"We are talking about a revolution into how the Romanian modern state should operate," he said.

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