QUESTION: You were here a year ago and since then a lot has happened in the region, from Russian military intervention in Ukraine to Romanian presidential elections. What are your principal messages for Romanian officials, politicians, civil society, and media?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Catalina, first of all thank you for the opportunity to be with you today. It has been about a year since my last trip to Bucharest. As you remember about a year ago I said that we in the United States are looking for the strongest, cleanest possible Romanian ally.
I want to say that I had a really good visit today. I was very pleased in both my meeting with President Iohannis and my meeting with Prime Minister Ponta. They talked about their strong working relationship, how much they are committed, each of them, to taking Romania forward together. I think we’ve seen considerable progress on some of the measures of rule of law that we were looking for to make you as strong as you deserve to be, including prosecution of high-level officials; the rolling back of the Black Tuesday amnesty laws, and lack of impunity for politicians, and including the good harmony among parliamentary fractions in agreeing to support a trajectory towards two percent of GDP for defense spending, which is a NATO standard. So I am encouraged by the improving political culture. I am encouraged by the broader consensus in support of rule of law, but there’s still a lot work to do. I think there’s positive momentum.
Today we talked about deepening predictability and the regulatory structures so business knows what’s coming; less use of emergency laws; the importance of a tax code that works; a reliable business environment: all those kinds of things. So I think things are improving here, I think it’s very good that the Romanian people are demanding better of their government and we are very pleased to be your partner. I also think in terms of our relationship. We have stood together in the face of the aggression we’re seeing to the East. We have 500 young Americans now serving here in Romania; we’re very proud of that, to be working together. We just got an extra billion dollars from our Congress to implement the NATO reassurance measures, including a NATO headquarters structure here, so we talked a lot about those issues that we’re working on together as well as our support for Ukraine, our support for Moldova, etcetera.
QUESTION: Speaking of Russia, Russia sees NATO and the missile defense system in Romania as threats against its national security. What do you think about it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: We’ve been talking about this issue for almost a decade. Those missile defenses are designed to deal with potential threats from the South, not from Russia, and we will make that point clear again and again and again. This is not designed to have anything to do with Russia.
QUESTION: The United States have a new regional approach on addressing corruption. Hungarian authorities already expressed some concern about it. Have you discussed this plan with Romanian authorities?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: That was very much a subject of the conversation, both with the President, and with the Prime Minister. I also saw the heads of many of the Romanian political parties today and I saw the Coalitia group,* which is playing a key role as well in advancing transparency, stability, predictability, and rule of law. This is something that we’ve been talking about in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and in the Czech Republic for quite a while. But we’re now talking about it not only as a matter of the democratic strength of the country, not only as something that creates more predictability for investment and prosperity, but also as a national security issue.
Corruption provides leverage for malign foreign influence in your country. If somebody is dirty or their money is dirty, they can be corrupted to do the bidding of others. So we had a very good conversation about the fact that this is not simply about democracy, not simply about prosperity, as important as those things are, but it’s about national security now.
QUESTION: Do you think that all of them understood your message?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Again, this is not a new message from the United States and I did feel a real commitment on the part of the President. I did feel that the Prime Minister is proud of some of the steps that the Government has started taking. And I did feel that they are both committed to working well together. But again, this is a new beginning of sorts, a new political beginning for Romania. So what we need to see now is this positive momentum sustained and we need to see real progress for the Romanian people, because clearly that’s what the voters were asking for when they went to the polls.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for answering our questions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Thank you.