A New Face for Trans-Atlantic Ties? Denmark's Fogh Rasmussen Could Be Next NATO Chief

The Financial Times says that Britain, Germany and France are throwing their support behind Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to become the next NATO secretary-general. Is it a done deal? No. But his likely successor recently purchased 10 new suits.

By Julian Isherwood

Britain, Germany and France have privately agreed that Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen should be the next secretary-general of NATO, the Financial Times reported in its Tuesday edition.

Is Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen headed to Belgium to head NATO?

Is Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen headed to Belgium to head NATO?

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel appear to have agreed that the 56-year-old Dane should become Nato's chief diplomat.

The post of secretary-general of NATO has traditionally been reserved for a European, while the top military post of the Alliance has normally gone to an American.

The report cites unnamed diplomats as saying that the United States was expected to confirm its backing for Fogh Rasmussen ahead of NATO's 60th anniversary summit, which is scheduled to take place in Strasbourg, France and Kehl and Baden-Baden, Germany next month.

Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay was a strong contender for the political NATO post, and that he already had Washington's support.

The Post said that Vice President Joe Biden would be attempting to convince European allies in coming days to support MacKay's candidacy. MacKay responded to the report by saying: "That's new to me. I have never had any discussions with Vice President Joe Biden about it."

But, he added, "I don't think that traditions, in the sense that geography should be a restriction on any position within NATO, should apply given the fact that Canada ... is a 60-year participant in NATO."

MacKay, like Fogh Rasmussen, has denied that he is seeking the NATO job. In Fogh Rasmussen's case, however, there has been widespread conjecture in Denmark that he has been angling for the NATO job for some time and that he enjoys the support of the larger countries in the Alliance.

On Tuesday, his normal mantra of remaining in Denmark as long as voters want him changed somewhat. During his regular news conference, which in recent weeks has often been taken up with the NATO issue, Fogh Rasmussen put his foot down.

"The issue of a new secretary-general has taken up a lot of space in the media -- and that is natural as there is a NATO summit in less than a month. But I would like to start this news conference by saying that I will not answer any questions on this topic today," Fogh Rasmussen said.

Technically, Fogh Rasmussen still has two years remaining in his current term as prime minister. In recent weeks, however, speculation about the prime minister's future has been rampant, with media finding indications of Fogh Rasmussen's departure from the premiership and ascension to the NATO post.

These have included reports that his governing Liberal Party's crown prince -- Finance Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen -- has purchased 10 new suits and shirts in order to be as statesmanlike as possible if and when he assumes the mantle of prime minister as Fogh Rasmussen's succesor.

Using Denmark's open information policy, one newspaper requested the prime minister's diary for the coming months, only to find that the month of August -- which should have been bristling with meetings -- was empty of entries, a fact that Fogh Rasmussen's office said was a clerical error.

A recent round trip to London and Berlin for meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also been seen as vital in canvassing support for Fogh Rasmussen's candidacy. He is already said to have received the approval of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with whom he is said to have a "close relationship."

Other candidates for the political leadership of NATO have also been mooted, including Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and former British Defense Secretary Des Browne.

Fogh Rasmussen has emerged as a front-runner in part due to the support he enjoys in the United States. The Danish prime minister has long been a loyal ally to Washington and he sent Danish troops to stand at the US' side in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The country still has 700 troops deployed in the Hinda Kush.


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