Danish leader chosen for top NATO post
April 5, 2009
STRASBOURG, France — As summits go, this weekend’s gathering of NATO members seemed especially productive, with the alliance addressing a number of issues, from Afghanistan to the selection of a new secretary general.
The annual North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting of heads of state tapped Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to lead the alliance. He will succeed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in August.
At a news conference Saturday, de Hoop Scheffer said the 28 member nations were unanimous in their support for Rasmussen. De Hoop Scheffer, who has held the post of secretary general since 2004, emphasized the claim of unanimity to dispel press reports that Turkey was opposed to Rasmussen’s candidacy.
Turkish officials were said to have been against his appointment for his alleged refusal to rebuke the 2005 publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, which many Muslims found offensive. In response to a question about the supposed controversy, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Rasmussen "a democrat" and said there was "no reason for pre-conceived notions" about the Dane and his views toward Muslims or their revered prophet.
"We raised our concerns directly with Mr. Rasmussen," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said during a late-afternoon press conference. "I shared this openly with Mr. Rasmussen."
Gul said he expects the incoming secretary general "would show extraordinary effort" to "correct any misunderstandings" regarding the cartoon controversy.
Sarkozy was joined on the dais by de Hoop Scheffer and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the press conference. Shortly afterward, President Barack Obama addressed the press.
Each characterized the two-day summit, staged along the German-French border, as historic and successful. NATO was founded exactly 60 years ago Saturday.
De Hoop Scheffer said the alliance made substantial progress on several issues, particularly with respect to Afghanistan. More than 10 nations, he said, offered money and personnel, from military trainers to civilians. The latter would assist Afghan officials with civic development projects and their presidential election later this year.
"When it comes to Afghanistan," de Hoop Scheffer said, "this summit and this alliance has delivered."
Besides the appointment of a new secretary general, the alliance welcomed France back into the fold. France left NATO’s integrated military command structure in March 1966, though it maintained its political ties to the organization.
There were two new delegations at the summit, Croatia and Albania, which joined the alliance Wednesday. The U.S. Defense Department elevated Albania’s profile a decade ago when it deployed several thousand troops to the Balkan nation as part of the NATO-led air campaign against Serb forces in neighboring Kosovo. Prior to that, the United States had expressed great interest in possibly locating a Navy facility near the gritty Adriatic port city of Durrës.
Summit participants also used a popular U.S. military term — transformation — to describe the alliance’s determination to retool itself for 21st-century challenges. They also discussed a host of other issues, ranging from relations with Russia to Somali pirates off the coast of Africa.
"While we celebrate NATO’s achievements," Obama said, "we can’t rest on them."
Added de Hoop Scheffer of the 60-year-old organization: "It’s alive and kicking."
During the two-day summit, Sarkozy frequently praised Obama in public, noting his intelligence, trust and open mind. His repeated comments gave the perception of veiled slaps against former President George W. Bush. The European press corps gathered in Strasbourg, France, one of two venues used for summit, seemed especially enamored with the new U.S. leader.
Sarkozy referred to the gathering as a productive summit.
"The time of international summits, where you talk, talk, talk and decide nothing is over," he said.