U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Romanian counterpart have signed a historic pact establishing the first American military bases in a former Warsaw Pact country.
The U.S. takeover of bases near the Black Sea - putting U.S. forces within closer striking distance of potential targets in the Middle East and Central Asia - would help "take terrorists off the streets" and save lives around the world, Rice said on Tuesday.
She called Romania - beset by allegations that it hosted a secret CIA prison - "a strong friend with whom we share common values."
Rice, hailing Romania as one of the United States' "best allies," signed the agreement with Romanian Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu.
The air base is among several military installations over which the United States will assume control under the agreement signed Tuesday.
The base has been heavily used by the United States since the September 11 attacks to transport troops and equipment for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Critics expressed unease that the United States was taking over Romanian military facilities in light of the secret prison allegations.
President Traian Basescu, meanwhile, denied allegations that Romania hosted a covert CIA detention center and said all facilities would be open to scrutiny to prove the ex-communist country has nothing to hide.
"There was no such thing," he said, calling allegations based on aircraft movements "baseless."
Secret prisons would be illegal in Romania, which hopes to join the European Union in 2007.
The heads of Romania's two chambers of parliament on Tuesday called for an investigation, CNN reports.
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