Athens, Greece (CNSNews.com) - Romania, one of the poorest countries in Europe's former communist bloc, is struggling to strengthen democracy and rebuild its economy to prepare for entry into both NATO and the European Union.
NATO secretary-general George Robertson said Romania is making progress towards admission into the Western alliance. Speaking in Bucharest, Robertson said that if all goes well, Romania will be one of the states invited to join NATO when the alliance holds its 2002 summit.
The NATO chief told Romanian Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu his country had a major contribution to make in the maintenance of security in southeast Europe.
Robertson said that he also discussed with Isarescu the possibility of Romania contributing troops to the peacekeeping effort in Kosovo.
Isarescu told Robertson that Romania was actively following the NATO admission program.
"We might have a sustainable [defense] budget thanks to the obvious signs of the Romanian economy's recovery, and because we'll have a positive economic growth that would be able to assure a military budget on sustainable grounds," Isarescu was quoted as saying by the Romanian newspaper, Monitorul.
Romania was given the green light to begin EU membership negotiations last December.
Scandal threatens presidential candidates
The Romanian press continues to play up a political scandal that could cause problems for candidates in presidential elections planned for November.
Adrian Costea, a Romanian businessman facing charges in France of money-laundering and theft, reportedly had links in the past with all three leading candidates: current president Emil Constantinescu, former president Ion Illiescu, and former foreign minister Teodor Melescanu.
Costea has told the Romanian daily Adevarul that he is innocent of the charges and that he is ready to clarify the affair. He is under investigation in France over alleged multi-million dollar crimes involving deals with the Romanian state.
In an interview with the private Pro-TV station, Costea said that his relationship to Iliescu and Constantinescu could be described as "that of counsellor" while Melescanu was a friend.
While Romanian politicians at first denied any links with Costea, media reports say he was appointed a "roving ambassador" by then president Iliescu in 1991 and renewed in the post twice by Constantinescu.
A published document showed Costea was named a personal advisor last March to the president, in charge of Romanian investment in rebuilding the former Yugoslavia.