Turkey approves Rasmussen as next NATO head after Obama steps in

Turkey approved the nomination of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the next head of NATO, after U.S. President Barack Obama has answered Ankara's objections, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Saturday. (UPDATED)

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NATO leaders agreed unanimously to appoint Rasmussen as the new head of the alliance after Turkey dropped its objections. 

"You know that there has been discussion over the past 36 hours, but the fact that we are standing here next to each other means a solution has been found also for the concerns expressed by Turkey, and we all very much agree and are unanimous," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a joint news conference with Rasmussen. 

Turkey had opposed Rasmussen's bid for the top NATO post, saying the Dane'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.

"I am deeply honored to be appointed as the next secretary-general of NATO and I will do my utmost to live up to the confidence shown to me by my colleagues," said Rasmussen, who will replace Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Aug. 1.

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Obama assures Ankara

Erdogan said Turkey had received "guarantees" from Obama that one of Rasmussen's deputies would be a Turk and that Turkish commanders would be present at the alliance's command.

 

"Our president (Abdullah Gul) said OK after receiving information that Obama will be the guarantor of resolution of the problems relating to the reserves we had expressed," he told reporters in Istanbul.

 

Obama met Turkish President Abdullah Gul before NATO leaders announced on Saturday they had agreed unanimously to appoint Fogh Rasmussen as the next head of the alliance.

 

Erdogan added that he expected Obama to refer to the matter in his speech to the Turkish parliament during his first visit to Turkey beginning late Sunday.

 

The Turkish prime minister said Rasmussen would also be taking part with Obama in the second summit of the Alliance of Civilizations to be held in Istanbul on Monday.

 

"We will probably discuss these matters then," he said. "We will express our opinions but in a way that will look to the future."

NATO had been deadlocked over the choice of a new secretary-general after Turkey's resistance to Rasmussen's candidacy, as all 28 alliance members must agree on the choice of the next leader. 

Rasmussen had in 2006 defended the publication of the cartoons, which caused protests in the Muslim world, on the grounds of free speech and refused to apologize to Muslim countries.

"Last-minute" bid by Berlusconi

Berlusconi threw out the protocol rule book on Saturday morning, missing NATO ceremonies and failing to greet his hosts because he was so engrossed in a phone call with Erdogan. 

An Italian government official told AP that Berlusconi had phoned Erdogan in a "last-minute" bid to try to convince him to accept Europe's candidate for the next head of the military alliance.

Berlusconi was seen talking on his mobile phone as he exited his car on the German side of the Rhine River ahead of a symbolic walk across the Europa Bridge to France.

An images shown live on European television stations, Berlusconi appeared to gesture to his phone to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as if to explain why he was not proceeding with other NATO leaders to be greeted by her.

A visibly perplexed Merkel eventually went ahead without Berlusconi, who was deep in conversation and walked toward the bank of the river as he talked on the phone instead of joining the other chiefs of state.

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"From the moment Prime Minister Berlusconi woke up this morning he has been in direct contact with Prime Minister Erdogan, trying to find a solution to this problem," a source close to the Italian leader told Reuters.

 

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