March 22, 2009 / 1:18 PM / 11 years ago

Turkey could block Rasmussen at NATO, official says

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Turkey could block Denmark’s prime minister from becoming the next NATO chief given concerns over his past stance on Turkey and a row over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, a Turkish official said on Sunday.

Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen holds a news conference after an emergency European Union leaders summit in Brussels March 1, 2009. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Current secretary general Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer steps down on July 31. His successor is expected to be named at an April 3-4 NATO summit.

NATO diplomats and a U.S. source said on Saturday Washington had told NATO allies it would back Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the next secretary general but getting Turkey to agree would be key.

A Turkish official said the Turkish position could be set in coming days, but Rasmussen was “tainted” in Turkey’s eyes.

“It may come to the veto,” he told Reuters. “We will have to see.” NATO leadership positions are filled by consensus among the 26-nation military pact.

The official, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Turkey was riled that Demark allowed a pro-Kurdish militant television station to broadcast from Denmark, and by comments by Rasmussen in 2003 saying that Turkey would never be a full EU member.

“Thirdly, the way that Denmark handled the cartoon crisis didn’t go down well at all in Turkey,” he said.

“The cartoon crisis has a larger dimension than just Turkey. At a time when NATO is going to assume added responsibility in Afghanistan and Pakistan, having a secretary general with such an objectionable approach to billions of Muslims is not the right approach to the Muslim world.”

The cartoon row erupted in 2006 after a Danish newspaper cartoon depicted the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb in his turban were reprinted across the European media.

Rasmussen refused to apologize for the cartoons, which sparked riots and attacks on Danish embassies in several Muslim states, but which Western governments defended in the name of freedom of expression.

The Turkish official said Ankara would prefer to see Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay in the NATO job, noting Canadian political support for Turkey in the past.

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual Brussels Forum conference, Mackay refused to rule himself out of the job that has traditionally gone to a European, although he said he had a lot of work to do rebuilding the Canadian armed forces.

“Canada, by virtue of being a ... founding member of NATO is of course very interested in all aspects of NATO, including the leadership, he said.

At the same event, U.S. Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, seen as due to be named the new U.S. under secretary for arms control and international security, called Mackay “a star,” but declined to say who Washington wanted in the job.

Reporting by Paul Taylor and David Brunnstrom

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