American-Romanian Relations, 1989-1994

Article excerpt

While the fall of Ceausescu in December, 1989, received high praise from the American public, Washington's response was far more tempered. On Christmas Day, the White House formally established diplomatic relations with the new government.(1) Bucharest welcomed the recognition, but when the new government announced its foreign policy goals on December 30, entry into a "European house" was the principal focus.(2) However, on January 9, the foreign ministry indicated that Bucharest also wanted to establish economic relations with Washington based on the return of the most-favored-nation status.(3)

From 1975 through 1988, Romanian products had MFN status. However, in February, 1988, Nicolae Ceausescu told the American Deputy of State, John Whitehead, that Romania was no longer interested in receiving MFN. The handwriting was on the wall: the American Congress had no intention of renewing Romanian MFN because of Bucharest's record of human rights violations. Rather than having Congress deny Romania, Ceausescu decided to "cut his losses" and abrogate the agreement himself.(4) On February 26, 1988, the State Department announced Romania's decision and noted that MFN would expire on July 3, 1988. In addition, effective July 3, Romania would be ineligible for any United States government export credits through programs such as the Commodity Credit Corporation of the Eximbank.(5)

The loss of MFN and especially the loss of export credits had seriously affected American-Romanian trade. In 1988, the two countries exchanged a total of $940 million worth of goods; in 1989, the figure dropped to $509.(6) Therefore, the National Salvation Front's immediate call for the return of MFN made sense. But how could it be achieved? Since Romania received her MFN status in 1975 under the provisions of Title IV of the Trade Act of 1974, and had lost MFN under the same terms, Bucharest had to apply for MFN under the terms of Title IV. The process had two elements: (1) Romania had to comply with the requirements of the 1974 Trade Act's freedom-of-emigration amendment, known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment, and (2) conclude and receive American congressional approval of a trade agreement which provided MFN status. Romania and the U.S. could have a trade agreement without MFN, as was the situation since 1988.(7) Little did Bucharest know that it would take nearly four years to regain MFN.

From January, 1990, until the summer of 1991, American-Romanian relations resembled a roller-coaster. Consistency appeared impossible. Washington was skeptical of the outcome of the December, 1989, Revolution. However, due to the efforts of Ambassadors Green and Constantinescu,(8) and the media's focus on the plight of Romanians in the aftermath of Ceausescu's downfall, Secretary of State Baker visited Bucharest on February 11. Although he promised President Ion Iliescu humanitarian aid, he emphasized that the future of American-Romanian relations rested on Bucharest's willingness to move rapidly toward greater democratization, religious freedom, protection of human rights and the rights of minorities.(9)

Five weeks later, human rights advocates in Washington who opposed Romanian MFN appeared vindicated. On March 19-20, hundreds of Romanians attacked Hungarians in the Transylvanian city of Tigru Mures. While the immediate cause of the outbreak is unclear, Hungarians had been recently agitating for the return of Hungarian language schools and were opposed by members of the Vatra Romaneasca, the ultra-nationalist Romanian organization. Six died and several hundred were wounded before Romanian Army tanks arrived in the city to restore order.(10) However, the Tigru Mures clash mobilized all of the anti-National Salvation Front critics within and outside Romania.(11)

In May, Romanians went to the polls to vote in a free election for the first time in forty years. Under the watchful eye of international observers, 80% of the population voted, and voted to retain the people they knew. …