STRASBOURG, France - The NATO summit began last night with a dinner for the 28 heads of state from member nations, and like the dinner last year, it went over an hour late as leaders tried to hash out differences in a body that requires total consensus for any major decision.
The issue? NATO’s next secretary general. The leading candidate is Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was blessed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday.
“When he becomes Secretary General he will be a strong one,” Merkel said.
But Turkey, a majority Muslim nation, is blocking Rasmussen for a few reasons, the chief one being his reaction in 2005 when Muslims in Europe reacted furiously to cartoons published in a Danish newspaper.
Rasmussen spoke out in favor of free speech in the face of calls from Muslims to shut down the paper that published the cartoons, depictions of the prophet Muhammad that some Muslims said were offensive.
It’s likely that Turkey’s main concern is that their assent to Rasmussen’s candidacy as the head of NATO will strengthen the feeling among other Islamic nations that Turkey, which has a decades-long history of trying to separate church and state, is not sufficiently devout.
“We are receiving telephone calls from the Islamic world, telling us: ‘By God, this person should not become the secretary general of Nato and we have to take into consideration all these reactions’,” Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera’s David Frost on Friday (yes, that David Frost).
So that’s likely why the dinner went late last night. A NATO spokesman said talks will continue today on the issue, as the world leaders meet here in Strasbourg.
— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times