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.
It is interesting that the Turks say that other Muslim nations have been talking to them about this. The cartoons issue has hung over Rasmussen from the beginning. As NATO Monitor has previously noted, with the ongoing mission in Afghanistan; the increasingly important Mediterranean dialogue; and the possibility that NATO will operate in other Muslim states in the future, this appointment matters for NATO's credibility.
US diplomats, who recently swung behind Rasmussen at the urging of the UK, France and Germany, are now saying that no decision is necessary this week. They have even privately mooted the option of extending the term of current Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer if no agreement can be found by July. These are not good signs for Rasmussen. As the EU Observer says:
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.
And NATO Spokesman James Appathurai has confirmed to Danish newspaper Politiken that:
.. the decision as to who is to be the next secretary-general of NATO is unlikely to be taken at a summit on Friday and Saturday. “I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that the decision could be taken at the summit, but I don’t expect it to be.The trouble is that there is no other candidate who even comes close to meeting NATO needs and achieving consensus amongst NATO members. The Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store is a popular candidate, but does not come from an EU country. With NATO and the EU keen to exploit the re-entry of France into NATO's military command structures to allow the two to work together much more closely than in the past, he would be a strange choice. The various Eastern European candidates are perceived as far too hostile to Russia, and too interested in rebranding NATO as a defensive Alliance aimed against Russia. This doesn't suit President Obama, who is keen for better relations with Russia, and for a major new initiative on nuclear arms control. It also goes against the interests of those NATO members keen to see NATO position itself as a global alliance capable of providing security for all.
The Czech Republic had been proposing their Deputy Prime Minister Alex Vondra, but his chances evaporated when Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek told the European Parliament that President Obama's proposals for rescuing the global economy would put Europe on 'the road to hell'.
Canadian Defence Minister Peter Mackay is trying to position himself as a compromise candidate, with Poland now supporting him having accepted that their man Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski cannot win the job. Mackay, however, is seen as a lightweight and probably too close to the political and foreign policy views of former US President George W. Bush.
It is not yet even certain that Turkey will veto Rasmussen. While Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has been raising concerns, Turkish President Abdullah Gul has been going out of his way to say that Turkey has no problem with Rasumussen. It is possible that late moves by Denmark against separatist Kurdish Roj TV, which broadcasts from Copenhagen, might be the trade-off necessary to get Rasmussen the job. Turkey claims that Roj TV is run by the separatist PKK which has been at war with Turkey for years, although the station denies that. Danish police and prosecutors have travelled to Ankara to review evidence, says Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, and to decide whether or not enough proof exists to justify closing Roj TV under Danish law. Although Danish sources deny that there is any link between the two issues, the visit seems coincidental to say the least. Even a sign that a solution favourable to Turkey were coming would probably be enough to persuade Erdogan to allow a NATO decision this week. And Rasmussen will speak next week to a UN Alliance of Civilisations Summit in Istanbul, which would be an excellent venue for him to put on the record his respect for Islam and his willingness to work with the Muslim world.
NATO certainly needs a decision on a new leader this weekend. A failure to agree a new Secretary General will take some of the shine off an already somewhat lacklustre Summit. At present the accession of Croatia and Albania to the Alliance, and the re-entry of France to the military command, plus the adoption of an Atlantic Declaration are the most that can be expected.