U.S. backs Dane for top post at NATO

Steven Erlanger

The United States has thrown its support behind the Danish prime minister as the new secretary general of NATO, but must now try to get Turkey to agree, senior American and European officials said Monday.

The current top civilian at NATO is the Dutch diplomat Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who has been pushing the European members of the 26-nation alliance to commit more resources to Afghanistan. His term runs out at the end of July.

Traditionally, a European holds the top civilian post, while an American general holds the top military one.

While most European countries had lined up behind the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, 56, the administration of President Barack Obama has been quietly supporting the Canadian defense minister, Peter MacKay, 43, in part because of Canada’s significant role in Afghanistan.

But Mr. MacKay appeared to call off his unacknowledged pursuit of the post on Sunday in Brussels, telling reporters that “I have a tremendous amount of work to do with the Canadian Forces.”

A senior European official said that it is “up to Washington to deliver Turkey,” given that NATO operates by consensus of all its members.

But Mr. Rasmussen has problems, too, with the perception among Muslims that he and his country are insensitive to Islam, a key issue when NATO’s biggest immediate challenge is Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The officials spoke asking anonymity, given diplomatic custom, because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

The Turks have objected to Mr. Rasmussen, citing these larger concerns. The Danish problem dates back to the publication in some Danish newspapers of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Denmark also allows supporters of the P.K.K., a Kurdish separatist group outlawed in Turkey, to operate a television station there.

In 2003, Mr. Rasmussen was quoted as saying that he did not believe that Turkey would ever become a full member of the European Union.

In Brussels on Sunday, a Turkish official told Reuters news service that while Ankara’s position was not yet firm, Mr. Rasmussen was tainted. “At a time when NATO is going to assume added responsibility in Afghanistan and Pakistan, having a secretary general with such an objectionable approach to billions of Muslims is not the right approach to the Muslim world,” the officials said.

If Turkey did not go along, another senior European official said, there was the possibility of turning to the Norwegian foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store, 49, who has studied both in the United States and in Paris. In January 2008, he was staying with a delegation in Kabul at a hotel blown up by a suicide bomber; a journalist traveling with him was killed.

Mr. Store was said by the official to have impressed many of his European colleagues.

The foreign minister of Poland, Radoslaw Sikorski, 46, is also considered an outside possibility for the post, though older members of NATO consider Poland too new a member and too preoccupied with Moscow to head the alliance.

If Mr. Rasmussen or Mr. Store, both of them considered Nordics, got the NATO job, officials said, it might make it impossible for the former Swedish prime minister and current foreign minister, Carl Bildt, to become Europe’s foreign minister if and when the Lisbon Treaty, reorganizing the European Union, is adopted.

Bron: Herald Tribune, 23/03/2009