WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, will stay in his post for most of this year at least, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday.
Gates was responding to press reports that Petraeus — a counter-insurgency expert with a doctorate from Princeton University — was being considered for the post of NATO’s top commander.
"The president is pretty clear that he wants Gen. Petraeus to stay right where he is, at least through late fall and maybe the end of the year," Gates told reporters at the Pentagon.
Both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported this week that Petraeus was being considered as the next NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.
U.S. Army Gen. John Craddock currently holds the post. He has been in the job only since December 2006 and NATO commanders normally serve three years.
Petraeus has been praised for implementing a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq which U.S. officials say played a big role in a decline in violence there last year.
He has been in his current post, one of the most high-profile in the U.S. military, since last February and had already served two previous tours in Iraq.
Although Gates’ comments appeared designed to dampen speculation about Petraeus’ future, they did not rule out one possibility floated by The New York Times.
The newspaper said Petraeus might be nominated and confirmed for the NATO post before the end of September, when the U.S. Congress is expected to break for the presidential election.
He could stay in Iraq after that but move to NATO before a new president takes office in January 2009, the newspaper said in a report on Monday, which cited unnamed officials. (Reporting by Andrew Gray)