23rd Feb 2019

Rasmussen's NATO job at Turkey's mercy

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen might not be nominated as NATO's next secretary general at the upcoming summit on Friday, due to Turkey's strong objections for the way he managed the Mohammed cartoon crisis in 2005.

Mr Rasmussen's nomination at the upcoming NATO summit in Strasbourg and Kehl on 3-4 April was never a certainty, with US and UK diplomats confirming separately that there was still no consensus among the 26 allies, soon to be 28, with the membership of Albania and Croatia to be taken up on Friday.

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  • Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen needs Ankara's backing for NATO's top job. (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

"There is a lot of talk, but no consensus yet. I cannot predict if there will be a decision on this or not," a senior US official told journalists in Brussels on Monday, as the delegations were making the final preparations for the 60 anniversary summit.

The US maintained "it would be good boost" to have a decision on the new NATO secretary general on Friday, but that it was not a necessity for this to happen, as Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's mandate would still run until 31 July. The US official did not rule out for the allies to push back the nomination to the very last week of July or even to extend Mr Scheffer's mandate.

NATO officials see this option however as a signal for Mr Rasmussen will likely not be offered the job. "Either he gets it at the summit, or he doesn't at all," one NATO source told EUobserver.

Britain also signaled that Mr Rasmussen might not be nominated on Friday. "We'll see. If there is no new secretary general at the summit, it won't be a catastrophe. There is plenty of time until 31 July, and this decision can be taken at any point, by ambassadors or ministers," a British official told journalists on the same day, under condition of anonymity.

Mr Rasmussen, who has been prime minister since 2001, has never officially admitted that he was interested in the job. On Friday, however, Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish TV that he had spoken with the Danish premier on the phone and explained that many Muslim countries were complaining.

"A very serious reaction emerged in countries with Muslim populations during the cartoon crisis," Mr Erdogan said. "Now these countries have started to call us and tell us not to allow it."

In 2005, Denmark's Jyllands-Posten daily printed cartoons depicting prophet Mohammed – a serious offence according to Muslim tradition. Mr Rasmussen refused to meet the ambassadors of several Muslim countries, including Turkey, to discuss the crisis.

Asked to what extent a NATO secretary general, mainly in charge of chairing meetings and building consensus among the allies, needed to be controversy-free in the Muslim world, the US official emphasised the need for "balance" between freedom of speech and being courteous and respecting the diversity of the population.

Mr Erdogan said the Danish premier had also failed to act on Turkish requests to ban a Denmark-based Kurdish TV station. "It has been four years now and they have not finalised the issue," he complained. "We are seriously disturbed."

Mr Erdogan's remarks came a few hours after Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Ankara was not opposed to Rasmussen becoming the next head of NATO.

"We do not have any attitude against the prime minister or anyone else on that matter. He is one of the most important and one of the most successful prime ministers in Europe," Mr Gul told reporters in Brussels on Friday.

As of Monday, it was still unclear whether the Turkish delegation was just putting pressure until the last minute or was really determined to veto Mr Rasmussen. A last-minute change of mind was not excluded, as both US President Barack Obama and Mr Rasmussen were expected in Ankara following the NATO summit.

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