U.S. backs Danish PM as next NATO chief: diplomats

Sat Mar 21, 2009 1:48pm EDT
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By David Brunnstrom

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The United States has told NATO allies it will back Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the next head of the alliance, NATO diplomats and a U.S. source said on Saturday.

Rasmussen already has the support of European heavyweights Germany, Britain and France for the post of NATO secretary-general, but Washington had been considering backing Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay.

A U.S. source close to the administration of President Barack Obama said Washington had indicated its acceptance of Rasmussen after U.S. National Security Adviser General James Jones this month went to Denmark to visit him.

Rasmussen's spokesman Michael Ulveman said the Prime Ministry had "no comments whatsoever" on speculation the U.S. had decided to back the Rasmussen for the job.

Two senior NATO diplomats confirmed Washington had signaled to allies its acceptance of Rasmussen.

"There seems to be a general coalescence around Rasmussen," said one, adding that an announcement was expected at the April 3-4 NATO summit. The current secretary-general, Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, steps down on July 31.

Another NATO diplomat said Rasmussen's appointment still needed the backing of all 26 NATO allies -- including mostly Muslim Turkey, which has voiced misgivings over Rasmussen linked to the row over a cartoon in a Danish newspaper in 2006 depicting the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb in his turban.

A senior NATO source predicted there would be no problems. "Turkey doesn't want to be in a minority of one," the source said.   Continued...

<p>Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen holds a news conference after an emergency European Union leaders summit in Brussels March 1, 2009. European Union leaders rejected protectionism on Sunday to prevent a new "iron curtain" dividing the 27-nation bloc into rich and poor halves during the global economic crisis. REUTERS/Yves Herman</p>