3 apr. 2009

Mohammed cartoon row blights race for new Nato chief

To conclude that Turkey does not fit in the European Union we can calculate how difficult it is to have Turkey in the Nato.

Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (left) talks to Albanian president Bamir Tipo at the 2010 World Cup qualifying match between Denmark and Albania in Copenhagen April 1, 2009.
Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (left) talks to Albanian president Bamir Tipo at the 2010 World Cup qualifying match between Denmark and Albania in Copenhagen April 1, 2009.

Hopes of a grand announcement of the new Nato chief this week look set to be dashed because of Turkish opposition to the front-runner.
Until recently, Denmark's charismatic prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen looked set to waltz into the job to succeed the current secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, when his term runs out in July. But Turkey, Nato's only predominantly Muslim member, is now blocking plans to name the 56-year-old Dane during the alliance's upcoming 60th birthday summit, calling his candidacy "unacceptable" because of the cartoon crisis. Rasmussen famously refused to apologize for caricatures of the prophet Mohammed when they were printed in a Danish newspaper in 2006, triggering violent riots in several Muslim countries. A Nato diplomat, who asked not to be named, said allies were now scrambling to secure Turkey's backing during last-minute negotiations ahead of a mega-summit hosted by France and Germany in the Rhineland, due to be attended by US president Barack Obama. "All is not lost, we hope the Turks will give in at the very last moment and we can still make it by Saturday," he said. "But it's looking a lot harder now than a week ago."

Image problem
Denmark has some 700 troops in Afghanistan, mostly battling Taliban insurgents in Helmand, and although Rasmussen has secured broad support from Nato allies on both sides of the Atlantic, Turkish concerns over his image are being echoed privately by other countries, which point to the need to secure maximum Muslim support as part of the Nato's Afghan mission.
Aside from the cartoon controversy, Rasmussen has also spoken out against Turkish membership of the EU and in favour of Kurdish separatists. "The point that people are making is that Nato needs a new face with the Muslim world and all the issues that Denmark has faced in recent years will not help," says Dan Hamilton, director of the Washington-based Center for Transatlantic Relations. "I don't think it's anything to do with him personally, because his credentials are impeccable. But it is a point that does need considering."
In a sign that he might be bracing for a Turkish veto, Rasmussen recently suggested that he might not even interested in the post, though he has also never denied speculation that he was a candidate.

Polish risk
The candidacy of the second-favorite, the Polish foreign minister, has also run aground because of his outspoken views on Russia. Radoslaw Sikorski, a loquacious former journalist, has the backing of fellow former Warsaw Pact nations such as Slovakia and Hungary, but many others fret that relations with Russia could take a turn for the worse under his leadership. Although Siskorski has recently toned down his rhetoric, even going as far as suggesting Russia could one day join Nato, Warsaw's willingness to host a US missile shield could bar his path. "His previous position on things like the planned missile shield and his views Russia makes him a very problematic candidate," says Dan Korski from the European Council on Foreign Relations.
That leaves Canada's defence minister Peter MacKay, who should not even be a candidate in the first place because of the time-honored rule that the secretary general post goes to a European and the top military post to an American. "But Nato is very good at breaking rules," says Herman Schaper, the Dutch Ambassador to Nato. "So if the Canadian candidate is good, there is nothing to say he could not get it." Although many feel it is time to reward Canada's strong role in Nato, MacKay stands only a slim chance.
Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Stoere may end up a safe compromise choice, but he is handicapped as Norway is not a member of the EU. Nato may well chose to postpone the announcement and wait for Obama's visit to Turkey next week, when it is hoped he will proffer sweeteners to cajole Ankara into accepting Rasmussen. But whoever takes on the job carries an enormous big burden: to get more public and government support for the mission in Afghanistan in order to turn it into a success.

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