PRAGUE, Czech Republic — “Political interaction in Europe is not that different from the United States Senate. There’s a lot of … wheeling and dealing,” President Obama said Saturday in France.
And Obama, the White House said, was the prince of negotiators at the 24-hour NATO summit. But they are not the only ones taking credit for breaking a logjam over who was to lead the NATO coalition come August.
On Friday night, leaders from the 28 NATO countries could not reach unanimous consent — which is what NATO requires for every single major decision — around choosing a new secretary general.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was the frontrunner by a mile, but Turkey had serious objections (click here for details on why).
According to the White House, Obama asked Rasmussen and Turkish President Abdullah Gul to meet with him Saturday morning before NATO summit meetings in Strasbourg began.
National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones painted the president as the hero who saved the day.
“Our president really was instrumental in bringing about this common ground and finding this common ground,” Jones told reporters on Air Force One as the president flew here to the Czech Republic.
“If I could say, towards our president, [it] was a very proud moment for me,” he said.
White House press secretary Robert Gates chimed in as well.
“I think many of you that have watched then-candidate and Senator Obama, and President Obama understands that he’s somebody that seeks out — and I think is very good at — achieving a sense of common ground,” Gibbs said.
That may be. But there’s certainly more to the story of why the Turks dropped their objections than the White House’s simple telling.
For starters — and this does not neccessarily contradict the White House story but rather adds some context — around the time the president was meeting with Rasmussen and Gul, one of his top advisers was on a conference call with reporters saying that there was no rush to get a new secretary general in place.
“I don’t see a huge sense of urgency to resolve this today. But as I say, the president is focused on this and we’ll see where we are at the end of the effort today,” the adviser said.
So obviously, the White House was not certain of the outcome.
But then there is the issue of what exactly leveraged the Turks to agree on Rasmussen.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi apparently played a persuasion role, telling AFP that he was on the phone with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Saturday morning.
In fact, there is video of Berlusconi getting out of his car where he was supposed to greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a ceremony with all the other NATO leaders on Saturday morning. But Berlusconi is on his cell phone. He gestures to Merkel, indicating who is on the phone, and walks in the other direction toward the Rheine River. Here’s the video:
What may have Berlusconi been talking to Erdogan about? He said later only that Turkey wanted “guarantees.”
Well, Turkey has been trying to join the European Union for years. And Gul said in a press conference that some of the obstacles to their entry had been dropped.
Besides that, the AP reported that Rasmussen pledged to reach out to the Muslim world as secretary general. The EU Observer reported that Rasmussen will go to Turkey with Obama on Monday, and also said Rasmussen promised to look into closing down a Danish TV station that is connected with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
The BBC also reported that Turkey will be awarded with the post of NATO assistant secretary general and will also get to fill the slot for NATO’s envoy to Afghanistan.
The question that is still unanswered is what Obama’s role in all this was. It appears obvious that he and Berlusconi both had a hand in making this happen. The question is, who promised what?
— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times
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