- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

BRUSSELS — NATO selected Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as the alliance’s new secretary general yesterday, picking a diplomat-turned-politician to help ease tensions between the United States and key European allies over the Iraq war.

After a nine-month search, ambassadors from the 19 NATO nations agreed on Mr. De Hoop Scheffer to replace Britain’s George Robertson, whose four-year term ends Jan. 1.

Mr. De Hoop Scheffer, 55, showed his diplomatic skills earlier this year during the debate over Iraq as his government supported the U.S.-led war but avoided antagonizing France, Germany and other European opponents of the effort to oust Saddam Hussein.

“He has an excellent perception of the different sensibilities on both sides of the Atlantic, that’s why he is particularly well placed to promote the European and trans-Atlantic dimensions of NATO,” said Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel.

The Dutchman’s main rival for the position was Canadian Finance Minister John Manley, who failed to muster support from European nations reluctant to relinquish their traditional hold on the secretary-general’s post.

Mr. De Hoop Scheffer supports his country’s traditional role as a supporter of both European unity and a strong Atlantic alliance — a position that also helped his candidacy.

Mr. De Hoop Scheffer was a diplomat with the Dutch mission to NATO from 1978 to 1980 and served as personal secretary to four Dutch foreign ministers after his election to Parliament in 1986.

He became leader of the center-right Christian Democratic Party, but a perceived dull image failed to ignite public support and he stepped down before 2002 elections.

His understated manner will mark a contrast with Mr. Robertson, a Scottish former minister in the Labor government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair who calls his own approach to dealing with allied governments “diplomatic thuggery.”

Mr. De Hoop Scheffer is a strong supporter of NATO’s drive to reinvent itself for the global war against terrorism, ditching its Cold War focus on territorial defense in Europe.

At a June meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Madrid, he surprised colleagues by suggesting the alliance could take on Middle East peacekeeping if Israel and the Palestinians reach a truce.

“He’s the ideal person to continue NATO’s transformation … into an alliance militarily capable and deployable and politically prepared to confront the new threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,” said Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO.

Mr. De Hoop Scheffer met with President Bush during a visit to Washington this month, an event Dutch media billed as an American examination of the Dutchman.

Since NATO’s founding in 1949, the alliance’s top civilian post has been held by a European, while a U.S. general serves as the supreme allied commander.

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