An odd gesture Răspunde

Last week Romanian President Traian Băsescu refused to attend the reception hosted by the American embassy in Bucharest to celebrate the 4th of July. This is the first time since fall of communism that a Romanian president has refused to attend the celebration hosted by the embassy. It is an odd gesture coming from a president known for his pro-American stance. The official explanation of the Romanian Presidency concerning the absence of the president from the reception was that Traian Băsescu had a busy schedule on July 2nd. Instead Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc, and the minister of Foreign Affairs Cristian Diaconescu both attended the reception along with a host of important Romanian personalities.

President Băsescu’s refusal to attend the 4th of July celebrations was interpreted by the Romanian media as a signal to the United States that the procedures concerning the nomination and validation of  a new US ambassador to Romania should be accelerated. The new American ambassador to Romania, Mark H. Gitenstein, is expected to arrive at his post in September and Traian Băsescu considered that it was beneath his dignity to attend the reception hosted only by the chargé d’affaires. However, this minor diplomatic detail did not stop him in the past to attend other 4th of July celebrations, as was the case in 2005.  It has been argued that this diplomatic gesture marks a turning point in Romania’s foreign policy, with the emphasis shifting from a pro-American stance to a more pro-European stance. This is not the case however, as it would be unwise for Romania to forsake its strategic partnership with the United States in exchange for a deeper commitment to the EU. A wiser choice would be to develop the strategic partnership with the US while playing an important role in EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

What then should we make of this gesture? I think it is a signal to the new administration to make up its mind regarding Eastern and Central Europe and the Black Sea region. There is also the fear that the interests of America’s allies in the region will be sacrificed by the United States who needs Russia’s support in Afghanistan and in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. The timing of the gesture must also be taken into consideration – just a few days before the American-Russian summit in Kremlin. If the gesture was meant as a warning to the Obama administration then the timing has been chosen quite carefully. On the other hand the gesture may be considered counter productive in the long run. If it meant to draw the attention of the Obama administration on Romania, it was of small magnitude and may have gone unnoticed. Furthermore insult between allies is not an effective policy. What Romania requires in order to attract the attention of the Obama administration and renew the strategic partnership it has with the United States is a clear foreign policy project.

George VIŞAN

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