21st May 2019

New Nato chief pledges to fix relations with EU

  • First day at work for new Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Photo: Nato)

Nato's new secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen wants to improve the alliance's practical co-operation with the European Union by trying to persuade Greek and Turkish leaders to set aside their bilateral disputes.

"We all know that there are other obstacles towards an improved co-operation between Nato and the EU. This is a priority for me, to get rid of these obstacles," Mr Rasmussen said on Monday (3 August) during his first press conference as secretary general of the North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). He formally took over the post on 1 August.

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His predecessor conceded a month ago his "disappointment" over the lack of a strategic partnership between the two organisations both located in Brussels and sharing 21 of the EU's 27 and Nato's 28 members.

The main sticking point in EU-Nato relations is the unresolved status of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Its southern, Greek-Cypriot part, is a member of the EU, while the northern Turkish dominated part of the island is only recognised as an independent state by Ankara. As a result, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey refuse to allow the EU and Nato to share security information.

Mr Rasmussen on Monday said Greece and Turkey would be among the first Nato members for him to visit this month, and "obviously this issue will be one of my focal points."

The Dane hailed France's return to the military structures of the alliance earlier this year and was confident that this decision "will definitely facilitate a process towards strengthening co-operation between Nato and the EU."

He also pledged to draw on his "network" of EU leaders he knows very well as a a former Danish premier in the past eight years in order to make the two organisations work together properly.

Mr Rasmussen's task will be to chair Nato meetings and co-ordinate the decision-making process among member states, as well as the drafting and negotiating of a new strategic concept for the alliance.

The new document, to be adopted by member states next year in Lisbon, would upgrade the security priorities of Nato, taking into account new threats such as terrorism, piracy, energy disruptions and climate change.

The new Nato secretary general will be advised by a group of 12 experts, chaired by former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright and Jeroen van der Veer, former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell.

An online discussion forum was also launched on Monday, with Mr Rasmussen stressing that he wanted "to assure everyone who shares their views with us, that they will be heard."

Mending ties with the Arab world

Dialogue with the Arab world was of particular importance to the new secretary general, who announced that he would meet in person with each ambassador of the 11 partners in Northern Africa and the Middle East, in an effort to mend ties after the so-called cartoon row back in 2005 when he was prime minister of Denmark.

Mr Rasmussen became embroiled in a dispute with Muslim countries outraged by the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. As a premier, he refused to take any government actions against the paper and cited freedom of expression as one of the founding elements of democracy.

Nato has invited Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates to work more closely with it on security in two groups known as the Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Co-operation Initiative.

"Let me assure the governments and people that I am fully committed to building stronger relations with them on the basis of mutual respect, understanding and trust," Mr Rasmussen said.

No dreams about Russia

Strained after the Georgian war a year ago, Nato-Russia relations would be one of Mr Rasmussen's main priorities, he said.

"Now, I'm not a dreamer," Mr Rasmussen admitted. "It is obvious that there will be fundamental issues on which we disagree. We have to insist, for example, that Russia fully complies with its international obligations, including respecting the territorial integrity and political freedom of its neighbours," he said in reference to the Russian military presence in Georgian breakaway provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Moscow has recognised as independent countries.

"But we can not let those areas of disagreement poison the whole relationship," he added.

Nato froze ties with Russia after the war in August last year, but re-started formal co-operation in spring.

Regarding Ukraine and Georgia's prospects of becoming Nato members - another sticking point in Nato-Russia relations - Mr Rasmussen said that either country can join once it fulfills the criteria, but neither has done so yet.

"I consider it a very important challenge to convince the Russian people and leadership that Nato is really not an enemy," he explained.


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