Leaders fail to agree on new secretary-general

NATO leaders failed Friday to appoint a new leader after Turkey objected to frontrunner Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark's prime minister, because he did not apologise for cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in the Danish press.


REUTERS - NATO failed to agree on a new leader at a summit on Friday after Turkey expressed concerns about the candidacy of frontrunner Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.


"We don't have consensus yet," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told a news briefing on the first day of a two-day summit co-hosted by Germany and France in Baden-Baden and Strasbourg. "The discussion will continue tomorrow."


Rasmussen has been backed by the main European powers and the United States in his bid to succeed Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who steps down as NATO secretary-general on July 31.


But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan criticised his handling of a 2006 crisis over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad published by a Danish newspaper and said NATO should look for another name.


"We ask why we got stuck on a single name," Erdogan told a news conference in Turkey. "Lets look for new alternatives and find a new name. This has nothing to do with Rasmussen personally. We just don't want NATO to get harmed."


NATO is engaged in the biggest military operation in its history in Afghanistan, and Turkey, the only mainly Muslim member of the alliance, fears Rasmussen's appointment could exacerbate hostility towards the West in Muslim countries.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asked about the leadership contest shortly before NATO leaders began their summit, described Rasmussen as an excellent candidate and said she would urge the leaders to pick him.

The backing of all 28 member states is needed.


Erdogan said he took a "negative view" of the Dane's candidacy. NATO officials said earlier the decision, which leaders were due to discuss over dinner in Baden-Baden, could be postponed until June, dimming Rasmussen's prospects.

"Question mark"

"How can those who do not contribute to peace do so in the future? This naturally creates a question mark for us and as a result of this question mark personally, I take a negative view," Erdogan said.


President Abdullah Gul, a member of Erdogan's Islamic-rooted AK party, was representing Turkey at the summit but any decision on the NATO successor would need Erdogan's approval.


Ankara faults Rasmussen for offending Muslim sensitivities by defending the publication of the cartoons in Denmark, which caused riots in several Muslim countries, including Afghanistan.


Turkey is also unhappy that Kurdish ROJ TV is allowed to broadcast from Denmark even though it has close links to Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas who have been fighting for an ethnic homeland in Turkey since 1984.


The PKK is listed as a terrorist group in the United States and in the European Union.


 Erdogan said he had asked Rasmussen to shut the station, "But despite us asking him to stop it he couldn't or he didn't."


 Danish police visited Turkey last week as part of an investigation into Roj-TV, but prosecutors denied there was any connection in timing with Rasmussen's NATO leadership bid.


Both Rasmussen and Obama are due to visit Turkey on Monday.


Contenders for the NATO post also include Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere and former British Defence Secretary Des Browne. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski ruled himself out of the running on Friday.


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