By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, July 27, 2006 – President Bush thanked Romanian President Traian Basescu today for his country's strong support for the young democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Speaking at a photo opportunity in the Oval Office between working sessions, the two leaders told reporters they share goals for the region and will continue their commitment to peace there.
"Romania will continue to remain an ally of the United States in supporting the democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan," Basescu said. Romania is a "stalwart ally" in the terror war, with just under 700 troops in Iraq and about 800 in Afghanistan, a senior defense official told Pentagon reporters today. In addition, Romania contributes more than 150 troops to the Kosovo peacekeeping force and has some 80 more in Bosnia, he noted. During his early-morning photo session with Basescu, Bush condemned terrorists who "can't stand the thought of democracy taking hold in parts of the ... Middle East."
"As democracy begins to advance, they use terrorist tactics to stop it," he said. Bush said he's not surprised by reports of a videotape featuring Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, a key al Qaeda operative, urging Muslims to become martyrs in the conflict in Lebanon. "Zawahiri's attitude about life is that there shouldn't be free societies, and he believes that people ought to use terrorist tactics -- the killing of innocent people -- to achieve his objective," Bush said. "And so I'm not surprised he feels like he needs to lend his voice to terrorist activities that are trying to prevent democracies from stepping forward."
Bush said his goal is to address the root causes of the dispute between Lebanon's Hezbollah militia and Israel to create "a lasting peace, not a fake peace." He praised Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's efforts, noting: "There's a serious diplomatic effort going forward." "Our objective is to ... make sure those who use terrorist tactics are not rewarded and, at the same time, help those who have suffered as a result of the responses," he said.
Today's discussions between Bush and Basescu extended beyond the Middle East to include security concerns in the Black Sea region and the Balkans. Bush called Romania's role in the area of historical conflict vital. Neither leader spoke to reporters about two other issues expected to be raised today: an oil pipeline from Central Asia to Europe that crosses the Black Sea or plans for the U.S. to use military bases in Romania.
Rice and Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, Romania's foreign minister, signed an agreement in early December that will give the U.S. military access to military bases in Romania. Basescu was scheduled to visit the Pentagon later today to meet with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.