Turkey remains negative about Danish PM's bid for NATO post

Hurriyet Daily News with wires
03 Nisan 2009 - 10:16Son Güncelleme : 03 Nisan 2009 - 15:02

ISTANBUL - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan expressed opposition Friday to Danish counterpart Anders Fogh Rasmussen's candidacy to become the next NATO chief, saying he doubted the Dane could contribute to global peace. (UPDATED)

Erdogan said Rasmussen's unwillingness to suspend broadcasts from a Denmark-based TV station linked to the terror organization PKK, and his stance during the 2006 crisis over a Danish newspapers publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, cast doubts over his ability to lead the alliance.

 

"How can those who have failed to contribute to peace, contribute to peace in the future? We have doubts...," he told during a speech delivered on "Global Economic Crisis and Turkey" at Chatham House Royal Institute of Foreign Affairs in London, where he attended the G-20 Summit.

 

He said "NATO is an organization whose duties are to ensure peace," adding his country is absolutely opposed to the 28-nation alliance losing strength.

 

"But the mouthpiece of the terror organization in my country is broadcasting from Denmark," he said. "How can someone who did not stop this safeguard the peace?" Erdogan added.

 

"This is my personal opinion: I look at it (his candidacy) negatively," the Turkish prime minister said.

 

Rasmussen was harshly criticized by Muslims worldwide for refusing to apologize for the publication of a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb in his turban by a Danish newspaper in 2005. The cartoon, which had sparked riots and attacks on Danish embassies in several Muslim states, was defended by Western governments in the name of freedom of expression.

 

Erdogan said last week he had received calls from the leaders of Islamic countries urging Turkey to veto Rasmussen.

 

President Abdullah Gul, who is representing Turkey at a two-day NATO summit starting Friday, said his country's view on the issue is "unanimous."

 

"What is important for us is a strong NATO which can carry out its functions in the best way possible," he was quoted by AP as teliling reporters before leaving for the summit.

 

Decision likely to be delayed

 

NATO leaders appeared unlikely to choose a successor to Dutch diplomat Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at their summit after the Turkish prime minister reiterated his country's opposition.


"For the moment, there is no plan for it to happen at this summit," one NATO official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity at the summit being held in Strasbourg, eastern France and neighbouring Kehl in Germany.

 

Diplomats say there are concerns in NATO that as Secretary-General Rasmussen would face fierce protests when he visited Muslim countries.

 

"NATO needs to think about its image in the Muslim world, especially at an important time for Afghanistan," one Turkish diplomat told Daily Telegraph.

 

The issue has become highly sensitive at a time when Nato and U.S. President Barack Obama are stepping up military, policing and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, with Turkey playing a key role.

 

Turkey, which has 900 non-combatant troops in Afghanistan, takes over the command of Nato forces in the country in August, when Afghans go to the polls for crucial elections.

 

Diplomats are concerned that the longer the leadership issue drags on, the less chance Rasmussen has of taking the job, making the Alliance appear disunited.

 

Rasmussen announces his bid

 

Erdogan's remarks followed reports that Rasmussen officially announced his candidacy to be NATO's next secretary general at a meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels late Thursday.

 

Rasmussen informed party colleagues of his candidacy, AP quoted political affairs spokeswoman Inger Stoejberg as telling Denmark's TV2 News.  

 

The Danish prime minister had said for months that he was not an official candidate for the post, but he changed his position three weeks ago and subsequently refused to comment.

 

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski ruled himself out on Friday as a candidate to become NATO's secretary-general. Other contenders for the NATO post are Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere and former British Defense Secretary Des Browne.

 

De Hoop Scheffer can stay on until July 31 in his current mandate, and several nations have stressed that the decision on naming a successor can be delayed. 

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