Biden to meet Romania leader

BUCHAREST: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Romania's president on Thursday and was expected to reassure him that the U.S. commitment to eastern Europe remains strong.

Romania is a close ally of the United States, and President Traian Basescu enjoyed good relations with former U.S. President George W. Bush. The former communist country currently has 1,045 troops in Afghanistan, and Romania provided hundreds of soldiers for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq for years before withdrawing them a few months ago.

"Nobody has been a better partner than your government and Romania," Biden said to Basescu as he entered for talks. "Now we are talking about what we can do with central Europe" not what we can do for central Europe, Biden added.

Biden and Basescu were holding talks at the Cotroceni presidential palace, and Biden will later deliver a speech about regional security at Bucharest University.

Romania has a U.S. military base at the Black Sea, but unlike Poland and the Czech Republic, the other countries the vice president is visiting on his Europe trip, there were never plans for a major anti-missile base in this country.

It was unclear what role, if any, Romania will play in the revamped U.S. missile shield that Poland backed on Wednesday, a month after the Obama administration stung Poland by scrapping the Bush-era anti-missile base plans.

"The process is under way and the options are on the table" for Romania, said a senior Obama administration official traveling with Biden. The official told reporters the U.S. missile shield was "driven by the security needs of our allies. Clearly the new plan has nothing to do with Russia and it was never about Russia," the official said on condition of anonymity in keeping with the delegations rules.

Moscow perceives the new plan as less threatening because it would not initially involve interceptors capable of shooting down Russia's intercontinental ballistic missiles, experts say.

Biden's trip to eastern Europe also is designed to mark the progress the region has made since the end of communism 20 years ago and the new partnership it now has with the U.S., the official said.

Biden began his three-nation tour of eastern Europe on Tuesday, to strengthen ties with ally Poland. He arrived in Romania late Wednesday and will travel later Thursday to the Czech Republic.

Associated Press writer Alison Mutler in Bucharest contributed to this report.