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April 19, 2021

Qatar, Article 5 and the unity of the West

Romanian public opinion – but also a significant part of the international one – waited with bated breath the press conference held by the presidents of the U.S. and of Romania, D. Trump and K. Iohannis respectively, on June 9th on the White House lawn. The reason is simple but complicated at the same time. On one hand, D. Trump, the planet’s strongest man, found himself, as President, under fire from complicated domestic dossiers, since former FBI Director J. Comey had been heard in the Senate just the day before, giving – under oath – information that could entail his impeachment.

It was inevitable, before the representatives of the Washington press – especially those of the hostile one that Trump could not ignore, according to the democratic rules –, for the media’s questions to refer to this meeting necessarily and maybe with priority. And, on the other hand, D. Trump’s recent visit to Asia and Europe had ended with two unexpected results. The first was the obvious, publicly and repeatedly affirmed dissatisfaction, on the part of European leaders whose states are NATO allies of the U.S., with his attitude toward the alliance and the EU, as well as toward international treaties in force (concerning, mainly, the Paris climate agreement, which the US has already left, but also other treaties).

The second result concerned Trump’s overall strategy, revealed during the visit that had just ended, namely the setting up of a vast alliance against militant jihad and Iran, so as to put an end to the terrorist phenomenon. Less than two weeks since the Arab summit in Riyadh, attended by D. Trump, Qatar, a Gulf state which hosts an important U.S. military base, was isolated by the main Arab states through the breaking of diplomatic ties, with the argument that Doha supports terrorist networks and Iran. It must be mentioned that, almost immediately, Qatar was defended by Turkey, which has a military base in this emirate and which urgently renewed a bilateral defence treaty, and Doha energetically defended its position, retaliating by stating that the accusations levelled against its leadership are made-up and tendentious.

Last but not least, the press conference was a first of certain international significance, Romanian President K. Iohannis being the first Eastern European head of state invited at the White House since the start of President Trump’s term in office. Romania is a state located on the eastern flank of the North Atlantic Alliance, on the frontline at the Black Sea, where Russia has resorted to a major effort to consolidate its military potential, far in excess of defensive needs. An interesting detail is that the Romanian Head of State is of German origin, his family, which settled in Transylvania over 800 years ago, having its roots in a region close to that of the family of the father of his American counterpart (Saarland).

As known, Trump’s visit to the Alliance’s General Headquarters on May 25th led to significant tension in relations with European allies, because of his accusations regarding their failure to implement defence spending commitments (the so-called “burden sharing” of NATO’s functioning) and similarly because of the new U.S. President’s lack of commitment to Article 5. This article of the NATO Treaty is fundamental for the transatlantic bond and legitimises the alliance’s collective security character, and the absence of Trump’s commitment had already triggered European reaction of “nationalising defence.” We should add that it was the U.S. President’s first public appearance after the UK’s snap elections in which Conservative Premier T. May registered a completely unexpected defeat that may have serious consequences for London’s relations both with Brussels and Washington.

The two presidents’ press conference was up to par. First because the two presidents revealed the content of their own meeting, the problems tackled and their own assessments on bilateral relations – past, present and future. Similarly, the questions fielded by media representatives generated answers of special importance on the international plane, not few statements instantaneously becoming news immediately picked up by the world’s great press agencies.

What must be emphasised in what concerns bilateral relations is the extraordinary significance with which the two leaders credited the Strategic Partnership between the two states. It must be mentioned that the U.S. – Romania Strategic Partnership was signed by President Bill Clinton and President Emil Constantinescu in July 1997, gradually becoming part of the triad ensuring Romania’s national security: NATO, EU and the Strategic Partnership with the U.S. The author of these lines was executive responsible for this important part of the triad in its early period, in the first three years, back when the four inseparable components of the exceptional bilateral bond were outlined: military, economic, legal and cultural. One must add that the conceptual structure of the Romania – U.S. Strategic Partnership stood at the basis of organising the MAP process of accession to NATO, as part of the Alliance’s eastward expansion, officialised during the NATO Summit in 1998.

During the press conference, D. Trump revealed the value gained by the bilateral strategic partnership in the last 20 years, pointing out that it “covers many dimensions, including economic, military and cultural ties.” That there is a joint will to render this vector of cooperation as strong as possible: “And today we are making those ties even stronger.” President K. Iohannis offered a precious confession on this important link for Romania: “I want to underline, that this partnership with the United States of America shaped Romania as it is today. Romania, a solid democracy with a solid and sustainable economic growth. Romania, which stands together with the US troops in Afghanistan, we stand together in Iraq.” Both presidents similarly emphasised the fact that the two states have stood as allies, in the past 20 years, in the great political and military dossiers of the international agenda. D. Trump said that: “Romania has been a valuable member of the coalition to defeat ISIS and it’s the 4th largest contributor of troops in Afghanistan. There, 23 of your citizens have paid the ultimate price and America honours their sacrifice.” His remark, buttressed by his Romanian counterpart and by the mutual commitment to continuing cooperation in this domain, was amplified by the underscoring of Romania’s positive role in the overall NATO alliance when it comes to “burden sharing,” a veritable precursor of the already ongoing process. It also has to be said that, in the current context in which the transatlantic link seems to be weakened by contradictory stances between the EU and the U.S., but also by the absence of an open and pragmatic dialogue, the Romanian President took a significant step forward toward its opening up, stating openly and boldly: “Romania is a member of the European Union and I think it’s in the best interest of you, Mr. President, to have a strong European Union as a partner. This is vital for all of us. Our relationship, the transatlantic link is vital. The transatlantic link is not about diplomacy, about policy, it is at the basis of our Western civilization and together we will make it stronger, together we will make it better. NATO and the European Union do not have to compete against each other, they have to work together.”

President Iohannis’s position and message gain cardinal importance in the current context and reflect – one can say without fear of erring – an apex of the last three decades in what concerns Romania’s active involvement in solving the great problems of the contemporary world. The words of the Romanian President will surely be cited in the following years during the debate on the construction of a new global order, his statement excelling through clarity, visionary character, but also boldness, realism and historical responsibility. As shown at first, the questions and answers session excelled in questions fielded for the American President regarding the deposition of the former FBI Director, the Qatar crisis – where D. Trump showed his involvement in the overcoming of the current crisis: “For Qatar, we want you back among the unity of responsible nations. We ask Qatar and other nations in the region to do more and do it faster” – but also the much-awaited expression of U.S. commitment to Article 5: answering a question fielded by a Romanian journalist, D. Trump was categorical: “I am committing the United States to Article 5 and certainly, we are there to protect (in Eastern Europe – our note). But yes, absolutely I’d be committed to Article 5.”

The press conference we talked about was truly a historic event.

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