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Mobs massed in the streets of Bucharest 20 years ago. But unlike the determined throngs now dismantling Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship, the crowds of 1969 were dancing in praise of Ceausescu - and his American visitor, President Richard Nixon.

"At one point, Ceausescu and I were literally swept up by the dancing in the streets," Nixon recalled in his memoirs.Soon after his first inauguration, Nixon undertook a politically daring visit to Bucharest. He became the first U.S. president to visit a Soviet satellite capital, hoping "to needle the Soviets," former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger recalled in his "White House Years."

Early in his quarter-century reign, Ceausescu attracted the attention of U.S. strategists with his effort to pursue a foreign policy independent from Moscow.

He kept Romania in the Warsaw Pact and ran a typically tough domestic regime. But unlike other Warsaw Pact members, he did not break relations with Israel after the 1967 Mideast War, he pursued a strong relationship with China and he criticized the pact's 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Both Nixon and Kissinger said later that Ceausescu helped provide a channel for diplomatic communications to Chinese leaders before the United States had official relations with the mainland.

Ceausescu kindled Nixon's interest when the future president visited Bucharest as a private tourist in 1967, expecting a routine reception. Nixon recalled in his memoirs that Ceausescu surprised him with a grand welcome, and "everywhere we were greeted with outbursts of friendship from the people."

Nixon wrote that he told Ceausescu of his desire to normalize U.S. relations with mainland China, planting the seeds of what Nixon later called the "Romanian channel" in approaches to Beijing and North Vietnam.

After his 1969 inauguration, Nixon included Romania on his round-the-world trip.

Nixon said Ceausescu agreed to do everything possible to help U.S. negotiations with Hanoi to bring peace to Indochina.

Nixon brought Ceausescu to Washington for a state visit in October 1970, and said in his memoirs that the visit marked the start of the "Romanian channel" to Beijing.

"Nixon toasted the many common interests of the United States and Romania, listing prominently that of good relations, such as Romania had, with the United States, the Soviet Union and the `People's Republic of China.' It was the first use of China's official name by an American president," Kissinger wrote in his memoirs.