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US Baffles Romania

ROMANIANS admire the United States but are increasingly angered by its policies and actions which they formally label ``bewildering'' and ``disappointing.'' Privately, they use stronger words like stupid, ignorant, insensitive, naive, duplicitous, and uncaring. The chronology of events which has many Romanians ready to dismiss the US as a serious, trustworthy partner in diplomatic and economic matters begins in the days before citizens of Timisoara initiated the Romanian breakout from Nicolae Ceausescu's gulag.

It was the Bush administration's December announcement of its intention to ship nuclear materials to the dictator which first raised the ire of many Romanians. Why, they ask, would a nation which has had its offer to reinstate most favored nation (MFN) trading status rejected by a Stalinist dictator (viewed askance even within the Warsaw Pact), keep an agreement to ship such sensitive materials to him?

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For Romanians, American behavior went from bad to horrendous at the start of the revolutionary skirmishes between Ceausescu's forces and roughly 200 people trying to protect a Hungarian priest from deportation in Timisoara. The US Embassy in Bucharest announced via Radio Free Europe on December 19 its intention to send two emissaries to investigate events in this city of 380,000 Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Gypsies, and Serbs. The Securitate intercepted the two Americans and turned them back. It prompted Romanians to ask if the US Embassy lacked intelligence or if it intended that its envoys not reach Timisoara - thus avoiding involvement while claiming interest in the city.

``Japan's embassy announced nothing and one morning we had two Japanese roaming around the city and conveying their findings back to their bosses who, in turn, reported to Tokyo. They immediately took a strong stand on the unfolding events here,'' said Smaranda Bica, a professor in Timisoara.

Only five days after the embassy's ``investigation'' of events in Timisoara, Secretary of State James Baker stuck his foot in his mouth and a stake in every Romanian heart when he said he supported US aid to Soviet pro-democracy intervention in Romania. To the nationalistic Romanians, strongly anti-Russian, who struggled long and hard to keep the Russians out of Romania (and were successfully fighting Ceausescu) this was hard to hear.

Then came the US offer of a minuscule amount of aid, the absence of any high-level American delegation visiting Bucharest, and the subdued tone of the administration's support for the new Romanian government. In contrast, the French, German, Soviet, and other governments responded immediately, generously, and forcefully.

``We don't want promises of future help. We need all kinds of help now, immediately, and we will remember those who respond in our time of greatest need,'' warns Stelian Tanase, a spokesman for the Bucharest-based Group for Social Dialog whose membership includes many of the National Salvation Front leaders, and other intellectuals and professionals.

The US, unwilling to make greater contributions to Romania's economic survival, even seems reluctant to encourage business with Romania. Its MFN status, which was offered for reinstatement to a Communist dictator at the beginning of 1989, is now withheld from a Romanian government struggling to establish a modicum of political and economic stability, and a democratic society after 43 years of communism. In January, the Romanian government voided the Feb. 29, 1988, declaration of the Ceausescu regime renouncing MFN status.

European and Asian businessmen are quickly making their support felt in Bucharest and planning for what may very well be considerable trade with a country which has a proven economic potential.

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The US can expect little political clout in Bucharest, and few business opportunities, unless there's a major readjustment in its policies and behavior vis-`a-vis Romania.

Worst of all, perhaps, it can anticipate losing the respect, trust, and admiration of yet another nation.

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