Obama charm secures deal on new NATO chief

5th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Turkish President Abdullah Gul confirmed that it was only Obama's personal intervention that had healed the split.

Strasbourg -- NATO leaders chose Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the military alliance's next secretary general on Saturday after US President Barack Obama smoothed over Turkish objections at a summit in France.

The Danish leader had long been seen as the favourite to take over the job, but his nomination was called into question when Turkey, which has the second largest army in the military alliance, threatened to veto his appointment.

But other NATO heavyweights Britain, Germany and France were strongly in favour and on Saturday Turkish President Abdullah Gul confirmed that it was only Obama's personal intervention that had healed the split.

"Let me tell you that if we were not convinced of course we would have exercised our natural right" to veto, Gul told reporters in Strasbourg.

"This morning we met bilaterally with President Obama and then trilaterally with Prime Minister Rasmussen. President Obama contributed greatly to these meetings and the meetings had addressed our concerns.

"I have no doubt that what we were promised there will be fulfilled. We spoke very frankly," Gul said, confirming that talks on Friday, prior to Obama's intervention, had been "arduous".

Ankara had not forgotten how Rasmussen vigorously defended a Danish newspaper's right in 2005 to printing satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that sparked widespread anger in the Muslim world.

Even at the height of violent and sometimes deadly protests across the Muslim world in early 2006, as Danes and Danish interests abroad were being attacked, Rasmussen insisted: "In Denmark freedom of the press is not negotiable."

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan thundered this week that Rasmussen had failed to act on Turkish requests to ban Roj TV, a Denmark-based channel he accuses of being the mouthpiece of the Kurdistan Workers' Party.

The PKK has fought a deadly 24-year separatist campaign in Turkey's southeast and is listed as a terrorist group by much of the international community.

"How can those who have failed to contribute to peace, contribute to peace in the future? We have doubts... and my personal opinion is negative," Erdogan had said on Thursday.

"NATO is an institution supposed to guarantee peace, but the media outlet of the terrorist organisation in my country is Denmark-based," Erdogan said.

"We have asked them many times to stop it, but he could not or did not do that.... How is this supposed to be keeping peace?"

Gul, however, said he and Obama had held frank talks with Rasmussen before giving the green light to his appointment.

"Prime Minister Rasmussen personally assured us that he will be in very close dialogue with the Muslim world, and I'm sure he'll do his best to overcome any misunderstanding," he said.

Rasmussen, 56, was also a staunch ally and close friend of former US president George W. Bush, ignoring massive protests at home to send Danish troops to help the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Obama begins his first visit to Turkey late on Sunday and Erdogan said he expected the US president to refer to his NATO assurances during his speech to the Turkish parliament.

The Turkish prime minister said Rasmussen would also be taking part with Obama in the second summit of the Alliance of Civilisations to be held in Istanbul on Monday.

Rasmussen for his part said he was deeply honoured to be the first Dane to lead the Atlantic alliance. He will take over from Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on August 1.


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