March 9, 2009 / 8:23 PM / 11 years ago

New NATO chief doesn't have to be European: Canada

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay, pressed about media reports that he could be in the running for the job of NATO Secretary-General, said on Monday that nationality should not be a bar for the post but shied away from saying he was interested.

The job has always gone to a European. The current secretary-general, Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, is due to step down in July.

Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland wrote this week that U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden was set to press MacKay’s candidacy when he visits Alliance headquarters on Tuesday.

“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 told a news conference.

“I don’t believe that a person’s nationality, given the number of NATO countries there, should ever be a bar to ascendancy to any role in NATO.”

A German newspaper said on Saturday that Britain, France and Germany would back Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Mackay said he had not discussed the matter with Biden. Asked whether he wanted the job, he replied: “I have a lot on my plate right here in Canada”.

MacKay is a senior member of the Conservative Party and would most likely be a candidate to take over as party leader from Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he steps down. Harper has been in power for just over three years.

Another handicap could be the poor quality of MacKay’s French, one of NATO’s two official languages.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway

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