Danish leader hot tip for new NATO chief

23rd March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The United States is the biggest and most powerful of the 26 allies that make up the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and its backing for the Danish leader would certainly place him favourite for the post.

Brussels -- The United States has backed Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for next secretary general of NATO, a diplomat said Saturday, setting him on track to take the alliance's top job in August.

"The United States has made up its mind. It will support Anders Fogh Rasmussen" as the candidate to take over from Dutch diplomat Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO's top civilian official, the alliance diplomat said.

When asked about Washington's position, a senior US official would only say: "A number of people at the alliance are looking at Rasmussen as a leading candidate but there's been no decision yet, and it takes a consensus."

The United States is the biggest and most powerful of the 26 allies that make up the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and its backing for the Danish leader would certainly place him favourite for the post.

On Friday, Rasmussen, 56, declined to speak to reporters in Brussels about his possible candidature, but he has never officially ruled him himself out of the race. Scheffer's mandate ends at the end of July.

NATO secretaries general are chosen through an informal process well away from the public eye, but like all decisions taken by the world's biggest military alliance, they are done so unanimously.

Rasmussen has always been a loyal US ally, including by sending Danish troops to Iraq, and he also appeals to Europeans, notably France, through his support of closer NATO-European Union cooperation.

In NATO circles, the "only unknown" remains the attitude of Turkey.

Turkey has repeatedly criticised Denmark of failing to revoke the broadcasting license of a Kurdish television station which Ankara says is a mouthpiece for armed Kurdish rebels fighting the government.

Rasmussen also invoked freedom of expression to defend publication of a series of cartoons in a Danish newspaper in September 2005 depicting the Prophet Mohammed, which triggered outrage among Muslims worldwide.

Aside from former Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, none of the potential candidates floated in the media have confirmed any intention to seek the top NATO job.

Rasmussen was no exception, yet reports in the British and German press say the liberal Danish leader has the firm backing of NATO's European heavyweights -- Britain, France and Germany.

"They weren't met with any denial. This is very significant," Daniel Korski, analyst at the London-based European Council for Foreign Relations, said of the reports.

He noted that the Danish premier has long enjoyed US support.

"Rasmussen was at the head of the list for the former Bush administration just as he is for the current (President Barack) Obama administration," he said.

"The Americans want someone who will continue to push for military engagement in Afghanistan," he said, recalling that Denmark has some 700 soldiers in the insurgency-hit country, mainly in the volatile south.

While that US commitment does not guarantee Rasmussen the appointment, officials at NATO consider the chances of his would-be rivals greatly diminished.

Chief among them was Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, rumoured to have coveted the position of first NATO secretary general from "new Europe," the Warsaw Pact countries that joined the alliance in the 1990s.

According to one senior NATO official, naming the Pole "wouldn't fit well with US willingness to seek closer ties with Russia."

It is difficult to imagine nations very cautious in their approach to energy-rich Russia, such as Germany, endorse the 45-year-old Oxford University graduate.

Another possible nominee is Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay, although few have taken his candidacy seriously.

While US Vice President Joe Biden has played it down, there is also the unwritten but so-far respected rule that the secretary general must come from a European nation.

In exchange, the top NATO military post is always held by a US national.

Pascal Mallet/AFP/Expatica

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