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Romania Tightens Security Ahead of Bush Visit - 2002-11-22

Security in Romania is tight for President Bush's visit on Saturday. Although the stop is only about four hours long, Romanian officials say it will be historic, because it follows an invitation for Romania to join NATO.

A love song plays at a Bucharest Internet café. It's a song about lovers making up after a period of separation. The popular tune is somehow appropriate in Romania this week. People here say they are very happy about being invited to join NATO and hope it will be a step toward closer re-integration into the West.

President Bush's visit Saturday is another step.

Other U.S. presidents have come to Romania, but now that it has been invited to NATO, the Bush visit has a more powerful impact.

According to Prime Minister Adrian Nastase this trip will be historic, because it marks the start of a new era for Romania as it enters the Western family of nations.

"The president will bring a very optimistic message," he said. "It is a message that Romania is part of the Euro Atlantic family. Is accepted and supported. That Romania is from now on a partner in the Atlantic alliance. That's why I'm sure that everyone in Romania will consider this visit an historic one."

But, others in Romania do not attach as much significance to the visit. Political science professor and analyst Stelian Tanase welcomes the symbolism, but warns against high expectations.

"It's a good moment for Romania to have the American president here, to hear his speech, to show enthusiasm regarding NATO. I don't expect great results from it," Mr. Tanase said.

President Bush will make the best of his brief stop here. He will meet with Romanian President Ion Iliescu at Bucharest's sprawling presidential palace, and speak to the public in Revolution Plaza, where the country's 1989 revolution began that toppled Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

As for the people, some have a more casual view of events. While security is very tight in the capital and there's lot's of tension in the ministries, many Romanians seem to be taking things in stride.

"It should be an honor for my country to receive this visit from President Bush. This means goods sign for Romania," said one person.

Bakshian: How do you feel about President Bush coming?

"I like him very much. But he doesn't know me, okay," he responded.

Meanwhile, American culture has preceded the president. Many young people buy American music or download it from the Internet. Elvis Presley is just one of the favorites, and his songs are very popular in local karaoke bars, where people sing the lyrics to background music recordings. Young people say they listen to the songs for enjoyment, and also to learn English.

Romanians say their move toward the West involves more that just NATO and maybe European Union membership. But, they say the gypsy-style love song remains a hit here, despite the new influences.