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U.S. Congressman Questions Iraq Withdrawal Proposal

PRAGUE, June 30, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service spoke on June 29 with U.S. Congressman John Shimkus (Republican, Illinois) about an announcement earlier that day from the Romanian Defense Ministry that the country plans to withdraw its forces from Iraq. Romanian President Traian Basescu later criticized the government's statement, calling it "unacceptable." Shimkus is a delegate to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

RFE/RL: Allow me to bring up a last-minute topic. Romania's Defense Ministry has announced, a couple of hours ago, its intention to withdraw its 890-strong contingent from Iraq. Any comment?

John Shimkus: You have caught me by surprise. This is the first I've heard of it. What I'd first look at is, what is the rotation, what was the original commitment, what kind of negotiations and debate have occurred with the coalition forces, is this a surprise or was this in essence known to be about to occur? That would tell me a lot of things. Now, if this is something that is a shocker, a surprise, and has not been planned for by the coalition, then I'd be very disappointed. If it is a process by which we knew what was coming and Romania was working closely with the coalition -- it is not a surprise -- then I don't think, well, in basketball parlance, there'd be no harm, no foul.

RFE/RL: A lot is unclear at this hour, but it would appear that the announcement has taken people by surprise--and caused opposition-- even inside Romania, all the way up to the president. The U.S. ambassador to Bucharest, Nicholas Taubman, has just released a statement, and allow me to quote a sentence, "I have the impression that not all of the relevant parties, whether within Romania or beyond, were consulted before this proposal was announced."

Shimkus: Well, if that's the case... you know, I'm on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and I'm on the Defense Subcommittee, and we were very proud of the, in essence, the redeployment and the whole new basing issue and debate in Europe. And I know Romania is part of that, along with Bulgaria. And both countries benefit -- and the United States benefits -- by strong allies and working relationships. If this has occurred not in consultation, that would really question our commitment to each other and maybe we ought to relook at the basing debate.

RFE/RL: The communique of the Romanian Defense Ministry specifies that Romania will stay in Afghanistan and will maintain a token training group in Iraq.

Shimkus: That's obviously positive, but I would still say that this announcement about Iraq, when we are having all this success in Iraq right now.... You now have a government that has formed that is going to be there for four years. You've got movement toward Sunni reconciliation. You have [Iraqi militant Abu Mus'ab] al-Zarqawi now dead. This is not the time to show a lack of resolve by the international community. Again, if this hasn't been done in consultation with the coalition, then I would be highly disappointed.

(RFE/RL 03.vii.06)

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