NATO leaders pick new secretary general

Danish PM selected after Turkish concern over his position on Muhammad cartoons assuaged.

Rasmussen  248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rasmussen 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
NATO leaders appointed Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO's new secretary-general Saturday after overcoming Turkish objections to a leader who angered Muslims around the world by supporting the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad. NATO's outgoing head, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said NATO's 28 member nations reached unanimity after a series of Turkish "concerns" were addressed. "Every head of state and government is fully convinced that Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the best choice for NATO," de Hoop Scheffer told reporters at the end of the alliance's two-day, 60th-anniversary summit. "A solution has been found also for the concerns expressed by Turkey and we are unanimous in this." "There were important efforts to make sure that everyone felt included," US President Barack Obama said after the meeting. Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that his government's requests had included the closure of a Kurdish satellite television broadcaster based in Denmark; the establishment of contacts between NATO and Islamic countries; appointment of a Turk as an aide to Fogh Rasmussen and senior NATO command positions for Turkish generals. He said Obama had been heavily involved in the negotiations. "Our president gave his approval after receiving information that our reservations have been addressed under the guarantorship of Obama," Erdogan said. "We hope our concerns will be met." He appealed for understanding from other NATO members about Turkey's objections to Fogh Rasmussen. "Our aim was to contribute to the process of having a healthy administration in NATO," Erdogan said. "Other countries should show understanding while we contribute to this process." Fogh Rasmussen infuriated many Muslims by defending freedom of speech during an uproar over a Danish newspaper's publication of the cartoons in 2005. He has also angered Turkey by opposing its membership in the European Union. Turkish leaders argued that Fogh Rasmussen on the grounds that he would be a bad choice at a time when NATO was trying to win support from Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to a diplomat from a member country who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Fogh Rasmussen, who stood next to de Hoop Scheffer during the announcement, said he was honored by the decision. "I have total understanding for the issues raised by Turkey," Fogh Rasmussen said, adding that he viewed Turkey as a bridge to the Islamic world. "A dialogue with the Muslim world is important," he said. De Hoop Scheffer's term runs out Aug. 1. The secretary-general's duties include administering the day-to-day business of the alliance's headquarters in Brussels. The post has in the past been filled in private consultations between member states, and the choices provoked little public interest. Other possible candidates for NATO's top post had included Canada's Defense Minister Peter MacKay, Britain's former Defense minister Des Browne, and Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere. Denmark has twice before offered candidates for the NATO job and lost.