BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Turkey’s resistance to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen could prevent NATO nations naming a new secretary-general of the alliance at a summit this week, diplomats said on Monday.
Ankara has not threatened outright to veto Rasmussen, the front-runner, but has made clear its dismay at his refusal to apologize for Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad which sparked riots in several Muslim states in 2006.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erogan said Muslim countries wanted Turkey to block his appointment. Some NATO members are asking privately whether he would be the best choice at a time when the alliance is seeking to improve its image in the Islamic world.
“There is no consensus yet,” said a senior U.S. official, asked about the chances of agreement at a NATO summit on the Franco-German border starting on Friday.
“We certainly will be hoping (for a deal) but I can’t predict if there’s going to be a conclusion or not.”
One diplomat said it was 50-50 whether there would be a deal on a successor to current NATO chief, Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
“I can easily imagine Turkey will block Rasmussen,” said the NATO envoy who, like the U.S. official, declined to be named because of the sensitivities of the negotiations.
Another diplomat said it would be “no catastrophe” if a deal was not done by the summit, noting de Hoop Scheffer’s term is not due to end until July.
Alliance diplomats were until now confident Turkey would not go as far as blocking a consensus choice among other allies.
But Ankara is concerned that at a time when NATO faces rising demands in its main military mission in Afghanistan, a secretary-general with Rasmussen’s image could affect the alliance’s relationship with the Muslim world.
U.S. President Barack Obama is keen to rebuild the West’s image in the eyes of Muslims and has stressed the need to step up efforts against militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where reaction to the cartoons controversy was particularly fierce.
Nevertheless diplomats and officials said earlier this month Washington had decided to back Rasmussen as secretary-general, a position that has always gone to a European.
Washington has considered backing Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay, and the U.S. official who spoke on Monday repeated Washington’s position that nationality should not be a bar to anyone taking up the position.
Other contenders for the NATO post include Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere and former British Defense Secretary Des Browne.
Stoere is seen as a good compromise but is handicapped as Norway is not an EU member while naming an Eastern European could hamper NATO’s bid to rebuild ties with Russia.
Editing by Robert Woodward