05BUCHAREST1030 / 2005-04-27 14:23:00
Embassy Bucharest
                C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 001030 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/27/2015 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PTER, MOPS, IZ, RO, hostage, military cooperation 
SUBJECT: HOSTAGE CRISIS TESTS ROMANIAN PRESIDENCY; BASESCU 
VOWS TO STAY THE COURSE IN IRAQ 
 
Classified By: CLASSIFIED BY POLITICAL SECTION CHIEF ROBERT GILCHRIST F 
OR REASONS 1.4 B AND D 
 
1.  (C) Summary: The kidnapping and potential killing of 
three Romanian journalists presents an unprecedented 
challenge to President Traian Basescu, four months into his 
tenure.  He has staked out a firm position in favor of strong 
transatlantic ties and a continued Romanian military 
contribution to Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, to a degree 
unseen since the beginning of the war, many in the Romanian 
media and some mainstream politicians are now calling for 
withdrawal.  If the hostages are killed, Basescu and the 
government may also face scrutiny over their handling of the 
crisis, effectively a first scratch in what so far has been a 
"teflon" presidency.  The terrorists' taped threat to kill 
the hostages on April 26 has intensified pressure on the 
government and captivated a nation glued to television 
screens.  Basescu has told us he plans to stay the course and 
will not succumb to the terrorists' demands.  End Summary. 
 
Cynicism Becomes Horror 
----------------------- 
2. (C) The March 28 kidnapping of three Romanian journalists 
and their American-Iraqi guide, Mohammad Munaf, has dominated 
Romanian news headlines in recent weeks.  In the early days, 
however, the media and much of the public had become 
convinced that the kidnapping was merely the work of wealthy 
Romanian-Syrian businessman Omar Hayssam.  According to 
general media opinion, Hayssam had been involved in nefarious 
business deals linked to prominent members of the opposition 
Social Democratic Party (PSD).  He now sought to orchestrate 
a crisis that he could solve and thus win the favor of 
Romania's new leadership.  This view was also shared by some 
in government.  Hayssam's arrest by the Romanian police on 
April 5 convinced many Romanians that the crisis would soon 
be resolved.  This seemed to be confirmed by the fact that 
the initial videotape of the hostages on March 31 did not 
resemble the tapes released by known Iraqi terrorist groups. 
Perpetual rumors that the hostages had been freed and were 
being secretly detained by the Romanian or U.S. governments 
added to many Romanians' misplaced optimism. 
 
3. (C) The release of a second tape on April 22, however, 
marked the beginning of a new stage in the crisis, focusing 
public attention on the true plight of the hostages.  With 
the terrorists holding guns against their heads, the 
distressed hostages in the tape stated the kidnappers planned 
to kill them if the Romanian government did not withdraw 
Romanian troops from Iraq within four days. A third 
videotape, broadcast by Al-Jazeera on April 26, set a new 
deadline of 17:00, April 27.  The release of the third tape 
followed a telephone call earlier in the day in which 
kidnappers announced the same deadline to the news director 
of the Romanian television station employing two of the 
hostages. 
 
Wavering Public Resolve 
----------------------- 
4.  (C) In addition to the horror many have expressed in 
response to the crisis, in recent days there have also been 
new calls for the government to reevaluate its troop 
commitment to Iraq.  Covered extensively in the news have 
been public demonstrations in Bucharest and other major 
cities to show solidarity for the victims and to call for 
their release.  Mixed with these messages have been emotional 
calls, including by the victims parents, for the withdrawal 
of Romanian troops.  These sentiments have also drifted into 
political rhetoric, particularly that of opposition 
politicians.  Former Foreign Minister and new PSD leader 
Mircea Geoana April 25 urged President Basescu develop 
"correct balance" toward a calendar for troop withdrawal 
without giving the image that Romania has yielded to 
"political blackmail." (Comment: Geoana immediately called 
the Charge to "explain" his position, agreeing that Romanian 
troops, in fact, should not be withdrawn unless conditions on 
the ground permitted.  Charge also told Geoana that his 
rhetoric ran a risk - in that "calls for a calendar could 
develop expectations for a near-term withrdrawal." End 
comment)  Some PSD leaders have also criticized Basescu for 
not having an "exit strategy" from Iraq.  On April 26, one of 
the victims' father, who is also a PSD senator, tearfully 
called upon the population to organize peaceful 
demonstrations so that troops could be withdrawn beginning 
immediately.  He emotionally declared that the most recent 
videotape showed young people who looked like they did not 
have much time to live.  Late afternoon April 27, roughly 
thousand protesters marched peacefully down a major Bucharest 
thoroughfare calling for troops to depart. 
5. (SBU) Politicians from lesser parties have also joined the 
fray. The crisis has been a mainstay in publications of the 
extreme nationalst Greater Romania Popular Party (PPRM), with 
PPRM leader Corneliu Tudor calling for an immediate withrawal 
of Romanian troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Dan 
Voiculescu, leader of the small Romanian Humanist Party (PUR) 
has similarly called for a withdrawal and even volunteered to 
travel to Iraq to exchange himself for the three journalists. 
 PUR is a member of the center-right governing coalition. 
The Parliament is scheduled to debate the crisis further in a 
joint session the afternoon of April 27. 
 
6. (SBU) While most public voices recognize that ceding 
immediately to the terrorists' demand would be the equivalent 
of succumbing to blackmail, the crisis has provoked far 
greater discussion on Romania's troop presence in Iraq than 
ever before.  The evolution of this crisis has dovetailed 
with Romania's first combat death in Afghanistan since 
October 2003.  Public polling on Romania's troop contribution 
-- which was scarce during the last two years of PSD 
government -- has now begun to appear more regularly in daily 
newspapers.  A Center for Urban and Regional Sociology (CURS) 
blitz poll conducted April 23-24 asked respondents if Romania 
should withdraw its troops in response to the terrorist 
demands in order to save lives -- 70 percent said "yes" and 
18 percent "no", with 12 percent "no response/don't know. 
When asked whether or not troops should be withdrawn 
irrespective of the journalists fate, 
57 percent said "yes," 33 percent "no," and 10 percent 
"don,t know/don,t answer."  Another CURS poll carried 
before the crisis showed similar figures.  (Note: The CURS 
poll was sponsored by PUR leader Voiculescu, already firmly 
out in front in opposition to Romanian participation in Iraq.) 
 
Basescu/Tariceanu Stand Firm 
---------------------------- 
7. (C) The Government's public reaction has been to stress 
that it is doing everything possible to free the victims 
without yielding to the terrorists.  Prime minister Calin 
Popescu-Tariceanu April 26 made a televised appeal for 
Romanians to trust the authorities and to refuse to endorse 
kidnappers, demands. He said that the pressure to give-in is 
increasing, but he reassured the public that the authorities 
are acting responsibly, know how to handle the situation, and 
will make every effort to release the hostages. Basescu -- 
who has been repeatedly criticized by the media for being too 
opaque about the crisis -- has relied largely on press 
statements released by his spokesperson.  Some media analysts 
have asserted that Basescu has micromanaged the crisis 
without consulting advisors, cabinet members, or other key 
political players. 
 
8. (U) Mid-afternoon April 27 Romania's top defense officials 
issued a press release urging the terrorists to extend the 
deadline.  They also asked Sunni religious leaders to become 
involved in freeing the hostages, including through 
negotiations. 
 
9. (C) Comment:  In his conversations with Charge, Basescu 
continues to emphasize that Romania will not succumb to 
blackmail and will stay the course in Iraq.  Given his strong 
commitment over time to such a policy, we believe that his 
determination is steadfast.  Nonetheless, the ongoing hostage 
crisis has prompted the most intense debate yet over 
Romania's troop commitment to Iraq.  It also marks the first 
real test of Basescu's presidency.  We share the view of some 
in the media that Basescu has centralized decision-making on 
the hostage situation.  Indeed, the crisis has prompted 
several of his senior advisors to approach us requesting 
long-term assistance on crisis management and organization 
structure.  We are now looking at options to provide such 
assistance.  More fundamentally, however, we continue to 
reassure Basescu that we are doing all we can -- at multiple 
levels -- to assist him and his government during this trying 
time. End Comment. 
 
10. (U) Amembassy Bucharest,s reporting telegrams are 
available on the Bucharest SIPRNET Website: 
www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest . 
 
11. (U) Minimize considered. 
DELARE 

            
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