By Vandana Sinha
WASHINGTON – Maryland Del. James C. Rosapepe, nominated by President Clinton to be the next U.S. ambassador to Romania, sailed through his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.
Raising no hint of opposition, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to approve the nomination and send it to the Senate floor within two weeks, committee aides said.
If confirmed, the Prince George’s County Democrat said he plans to help integrate Romania into NATO and foster the democratic free-market system that current leaders planted when they ousted the ruling communists in November 1996.
“Today we enjoy a close relationship with Romania, based on our mutual desire to see their economic and political reforms succeed and for Romania to take its rightful place among the family of flourishing European democracies,” Rosapepe told the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on European affairs.
The only ripple in the confirmation hearing came during an exchange with Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the subcommittee’s top Democrat.
When Biden asked what would happen to Romania’s political stability if it is denied NATO membership in 1999, Rosapepe answered, “I don’t know.”
“I’m disappointed,” said Biden, comparing the nominee to career diplomats who the senator said are traditionally “non- responsive” and “evasive.”
“I’m still going to vote for you, but I’m disappointed.”
An 11-year member of the Maryland House of Delegates and member of the Albanian American Enterprise Fund Board, which promotes business development in Albania, Rosapepe is anything but a career diplomat.
But officials of Romanian organizations said in interviews before the hearing that Rosapepe’s inexperience in diplomacy should not affect his performance as an ambassador.
“We are very happy with Delegate Rosapepe. We have a great deal of respect for him and applaud his nomination,” said Armand Scala, president of the Congress of Romanian Americans, a McLean, Va.-based organization.
But Scala said his group would have preferred a professional diplomat.
“We ask from him the same thing we would ask from a career diplomat because the Romanian people need to have a constant source of information and … direction that should come through the ambassador,” Scala said.
Charles King, a Georgetown University professor of Romanian studies, said Clinton’s decision to choose someone new to foreign relations is a positive sign for the country’s future.
“The United States no longer sees Romania as a key potential trouble spot,” said King, who holds the university’s Ion Ratiu Chair of Romanian Studies. “The country is becoming more normal. The business interests of the U.S. really outweigh the security concerns that are usually handled by a professional diplomat.”
Rosapepe’s background in southern European investment and public policy would help Romania boost its economy through foreign investments and industry privatization, ensuring the nation’s success as a democracy, said Jay McCrensky, executive director of Romanian American Chamber of Commerce in Washington.
“Delegate Rosapepe was not someone foreseen as a natural ambassador to Romania,” King said, “but he is someone who is qualified and will do an excellent job.”