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Europe

Romania, US Sign Military Base Agreement

Romania, an alleged location for controversial CIA interrogation bases in Europe, became the first country to benefit from the US military's new deployment strategy.

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Rice signed the deal before heading off to Ukraine and Brussels

Washington's signing of an agreement to set up US military bases in Romania is a step forward in its strategic move eastwards that is little affected by a CIA prisons scandal rocking Europe, analysts and diplomats told AFP.

It is also a strategic coup for Romania, the first former Soviet bloc nation to host US bases, who is anxious to have a strong ally against the still imposing Russian bear.

"It is a confirmation of a trend that has existed for the last few years and shows that the New Europe is real for the United States," French international affairs expert Dominique Moisi said.

Europe needs US intelligence

The agreement went through despite an outcry over alleged CIA flights through European states, reportedly carrying terrorism suspects to secret prisons.

CIA Flüge Deutschland US Air Base Ramstein

US military activity in Europe, here at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, is moving eastwards

Poland and Romania, two staunch US allies which have troops in Iraq, have been mentioned as countries hosting detention centers where torture was allegedly carried out.

Moisi said the scandal would die down, and not effect Washington's establishing a military presence in eastern Europe, since "European governments know that there is a terrorist threat all over Europe" and need US intelligence.

"They are protesting for public opinion's sake," said Moisi, deputy director of France's Institute for International Relations think tank.

Not too damaging a scandal

A Western diplomat told AFP that the United States did not think the prisons affair would be too "damaging a scandal."

The diplomat who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said: "Every country that (has) such a prison agreed to host such a prison, so these governments will have to answer to their voters far more concretely than the EU has to answer to European political opinion."

This leaves the strategic reality of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's on Tuesday signing in Bucharest a historic agreement with Romania to establish permanent US military bases in the country.

"It is a remarkable thing to think that some 16 years after the collapse of communism here in Romania... we would be signing an agreement that will allow America to have forces" in Romania, Rice told reporters at the elegant Cotroceni Palace.

Romanian military analyst Cornel Codita said the move "allows the United States to move closer to Russia and above all to hot spots in the Middle East."

A historic friend

Meanwhile, Romania has closed ranks with an historic friend.

Traian Basescu in Berlin

Romanian President Traian Basescu (r), here in a visit to Germany, has supported the US in Iraq

Romanian Foreign Minister Razvan Ungureanu said last weekend that the accord, signaling the first move in Washington's redeployment of some of its European-based forces from the west to eastern Europe, "is a fulfillment of Romanian wishes since 60 years," namely the desire to see US troops land in order to deliver them from Soviet domination.

Romanian political analyst Iulian Chifu said Romania will benefit since US vessels will be patrolling in the Black Sea in order to protect the bases.

This gives Romania "a security area in the wider Black Sea area" and effectively ends a ban on only Russian and Turkish vessels being regularly in the Black Sea, said Chifu, who teaches conflict analysis at Romania's National School of Political and Administration Sciences.

Guarantee for investors

Cristian Hostiuc, editor-in-chief of the Romanian economic newspaper Ziarul Financiar, said the bases, which are mainly for training and will only involve a total of 1,500 US troops, would not be an immediate draw for significant US or other foreign investment.

CIA Flug nach Rumänien

Mihail Kogalniceanu airfield has been mentioned as a possible location for a base

Paul Hanrahan, president of the US company AES Corporation which is competing for Romanian electricity firms that are being privatized, said that hosting US bases was a "guarantee" for investors.

"Americans like to invest in countries which welcome their military bases," said Hanrahan, in a report by the Romanian Mediafax news agency.

But Bucharest taxi driver Gabi Netedu, 29, said the bases move "is not good because now Romania will become a target for terrorists."

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