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Romanian President Traian Basescu shakes hands with Texas National Guard soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery out of New Braunfels, Texas, Sunday afternoon at the Babadag training area.
Romanian President Traian Basescu shakes hands with Texas National Guard soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery out of New Braunfels, Texas, Sunday afternoon at the Babadag training area. (Russ Rizzo / S&S)
Romanian President Traian Basescu shakes hands with Texas National Guard soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery out of New Braunfels, Texas, Sunday afternoon at the Babadag training area.
Romanian President Traian Basescu shakes hands with Texas National Guard soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery out of New Braunfels, Texas, Sunday afternoon at the Babadag training area. (Russ Rizzo / S&S)
Romanian President Traian Basescu, right with binoculars, watches a convoy ambush exercise alongside Maj. Gen. Charles Rodriguez, Adjutant General of Texas and head of that state's National Guard, Sunday afternoon.
Romanian President Traian Basescu, right with binoculars, watches a convoy ambush exercise alongside Maj. Gen. Charles Rodriguez, Adjutant General of Texas and head of that state's National Guard, Sunday afternoon. (Russ Rizzo / S&S)

BABADAG TRAINING AREA, Romania — U.S. and Romanian officials are drawing closer to a deal that could give the U.S. military wide access to as many as five bases here, Romania’s defense minister said during a visit Sunday to an army training base.

An arrangement could be reached as soon as September, Defense Minister Teodor Atanasiu said in an interview with Stars and Stripes.

Atanasiu said he offered the United States five bases in a proposal that the Romanian government supports. He said U.S. officials are considering three of them, including Babadag, where 1,500 U.S. and Romanian soldiers are training this month. Also being discussed are the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base and a port in Constanta.

“It is very important to us to have U.S. military bases on our territory,” Atanasiu said through a translator. “From the government’s point of view, there is no reservation. From the parliament, it is OK. From the military’s point of view, there is no reservation, and from the population, there are no major issues.”

Romanian President Traian Basescu, who observed Sunday’s training with Atanasiu and U.S. military officials, said Romanian officials have offered to improve the infrastructure on the bases or allow the United States to do it.

They also will allow U.S. forces to use them as forward operating bases from which to deploy to other regions. The bases would be limited by their relatively small size, he said.

Within minutes of arriving by helicopter, Basescu, who speaks English, struck up conversation with U.S. soldiers, diverting from a strict schedule of events, said Sgt. Marius Ciubucciu, who traveled alongside the president as an interpreter for U.S. officials.

“He’s a cool guy,” said Ciubucciu, a U.S. soldier who grew up in Romania.

During his visit, the president shot about 20 rounds from an M-16 rifle, opened a Meals, Ready to Eat and watched a convoy-ambush exercise. Reporters were not allowed with him as he shot on the range.

Members of the Texas National Guard are at Babadag conducting annual training alongside Romanian troops in a two-week exercise called ROMEX ’05

Romania is one of three top countries for U.S. military officials looking east for new bases to train soldiers and deploy them to other points. Bulgaria and Poland are the other two.

The 1st Armored Division headed training exercises in Romania and Bulgaria this month, using ranges and airfields where U.S. officials are trying to increase access.

Both countries joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization last year and support the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bulgaria has 450 troops in Iraq and 60 in Afghanistan. Romania has 860 troops in Iraq and will send two infantry battalions, with a total of about 800 troops, to Afghanistan next month, marking the second rotation there for one battalion.

Discussions between the United States and the two countries over base access started about two years ago.

Bulgaria’s deputy defense minister said earlier this month that he also expects to finalize negotiations by September to give U.S. forces greater access to bases there, including the Novo Selo Training Area and Bezmer Air Base, which were used in this month’s exercises.

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