As U.S. pledges troops, France prepares Romania plans

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BUCHAREST (Reuters) – France will on Thursday aim to refine plans to send troops to Romania as part of a future NATO mission as it seeks to give further reassurance to the Black Sea nation amid tensions with Russia.

Romania has sought to address its own security concerns after Russia massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s borders. It has prompted fears of a conflict that could spill over into Romania, which has a 600-kilometre (370-mile) border with Ukraine.

The United States said on Wednesday it would send nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania to reinforce Eastern European NATO allies in the face of what Washington describes as a Russian threat to invade Ukraine.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will hold talks in Bucharest on Thursday with nine ministers from Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, including Poland, the Czech Republic, and Estonia, to discuss the crisis.

Speaking to the Romanian parliament on Wednesday to mark the 15 years since it joined the European Union, Le Drian said Paris wanted to show its solidarity and underscore the EU’s unity after Russia had chosen to act as a destabilising power.

“France is ready to commit to new NATO reassurance measures for Romania,” Le Drian said, speaking alongside his Romanian counterpart Bogdan Aurescu. “We are proud to stand with you when the security situation is worsening at your borders, which are also our borders.”

NATO has a multinational land force of up to 4,000 troops in Romania, a member since 2004. The United States also has soldiers stationed at separate bases in Romania and in Bulgaria.

French officials said the objective would be to create a mission similar to those in the Baltics that have a lead nation co-ordinating land, sea and maritime assets.

Paris has offered to be the lead nation of the mission, which could see about 1,000 troops from various countries.

The contours of the mission will be discussed at the next NATO defence ministers meeting in mid-February. While a political decision could be made then, deploying forces would take some time, diplomats said.

Reporting by John Irish, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

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