AP NEWS
Related topics

Ex-Ambassador Says Washington Would Hear No Evil About Ceausescu

January 21, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ He tried to tell Washington, says David Funderburk, but during four years as ambassador to Romania he couldn’t convince anyone that Nicolae Ceausescu was a murderous tyrant undeserving of American favors.

″It was like beating my head against a brick wall,″ Funderburk said in an interview from his home in Buies Creek, N.C., where he now runs an anti- communist foundation.

″We reported what was really happening and the whole litany of horrors that Ceausescu was carrying out, but my reports weren’t reaching the top people and they certainly weren’t being factored into our relationship.′ ′

Funderburk, 45, a former college teacher fluent in Romanian, says he knows why: when President Reagan appointed him in 1981, he was regarded by the State Department as a protege of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., the department’s nemesis.

Now, of course, the world knows that Funderburk’s descriptions were accurate. Ceausescu ran a police state. His people were virtually starved while Romanian farm products were sent abroad. Women were penalized if they refused to have babies. Clergymen and opponents were killed. Every typewriter had to be registered.

The United States, Funderburk said, is still following a wrongheaded policy in Romania, backing Ceausescu’s successor, communist Ion Iliescu, head of the National Salvation Front government.

″We ought to be offering our moral support to the outmanned non- communists,′ ′ he said.

During the Nixon Administration, the United States had seen a streak of independence in Ceausescu. To encourage other communists to inch away from Moscow, Romania was given most favored nation trade status and Ceausescu was showered with attention.

Presidents Nixon and Ford and other high officials visited, offering praise for Ceausescu’s ″courage.″ Nixon and President Carter lavishly welcomed him to Washington.

Funderburk said George Bush, who was then vice president; Alexander M. Haig, who was secretary of state; and businessmen who wanted to trade with Romania ″trekked over to Bucharest to do homage to Ceausescu.″

He said he asked the visitors to press Ceausescu to honor his human rights commitments but they ″had been told to just ignore Funderburk.″

Career diplomat Francis B. Corry, assigned as Funderburk’s deputy, confirmed that the ambassador was persona non grata in the State Deparment.

″He had the reputation - not entirely deserved - of being a protege of Jesse Helms,″ said Corry, who has since retired.

Corry added that ″Helms’ relationship with the Department of State being what it was, there was little David Funderburk could do to help his relationship with the department.″

As for the kid gloves policy toward Ceausescu, Corry said: ″Was the policy of differentiation, which was conceived in Kissingerian times, wise? An argument could be made either way.

″We never got a hell of a lot of true independence from Ceausescu. How could they be independent with a 1,500-kilometer border with the Soviet Union?″

On the other hand, Corry said, ″I felt - and in this I agreed with the department - that having extended most favored nation status, pulling it back would remove whatever leverage we had with Ceausescu.″

The Romanian dictator had demonstrated a degree of maverick behavior. He maintained ties with West Germany, refused to break relations with Israel after the Six-Day War, refused to boycott the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and declined to back Soviet interventions in Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.

Moreover, tens of thousands of Jews were allowed to leave. It later turned out Ceausescu had received thousands of dollars from Israel for each emigre.

Funderburk argued Ceausescu’s independence was a ploy. ″Behind the scenes he was collaborating with the Soviets″ and sharing the Western techology he was allowed to import, he advised Washington.

Unable to budge the State Department, Funderburk said he used his influence with conservatives to arrange a 1983 Oval Office meeting with Ronald Reagan.

″The president seemed sympathetic and surprised, but unless he heard the same message day after day he wasn’t about to act against his own secretary of state,″ Funderurk said. Thus, the ″groveling″ continued.

The department, furious that he had gone around channels, undertook to force him out as ambassador, Funderburk said. Finally, in 1985, he quit in frustration, he said.

Funderburk said he remains appalled at U.S. policy. ″We rushed in with a new ambassador and recognized the provisional government. Most of those characters are people who worked with Ceausescu. Here we are propping up a communist government composed of people the people hate. We don’t learn anything.″

AP RADIO
Update hourly