- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

KEHL, GERMANY (AP) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi created a stir Saturday by making the German chancellor wait while he chatted on his mobile phone with Turkey’s prime minister about who should become NATO’s new chief.

Berlusconi was trying to persuade Recep Tayyip Erdogan to accept Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the 28-member alliance’s new chief, an Italian government official said. Officials from two other countries confirmed the conversation.

The current secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands, is completing his term this summer. Berlusconi was making a “last-minute” effort to persuade Erdogan to reverse Turkey’s objection, said the Italian government official, speaking on condition he not be identified further.

Berlusconi was seen chatting on his mobile phone as he got out of his car on the German side of the Rhine River before a symbolic walk across the Europa Bridge that links Germany and France.

In images shown live on European television stations, Berlusconi appeared to gesture to his phone to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as if to explain why he wasn’t proceeding with other NATO leaders to be greeted by her.

A visibly perplexed Merkel eventually went ahead without Berlusconi, who was deep in conversation and walked toward the bank of the river as he talked on the phone instead of joining the other chiefs of state.

The perceived snub came days after Queen Elizabeth II jokingly reprimanded Berlusconi for calling out “Mr. Obama” loudly after a group photo was taken at Buckingham Palace before the Group of 20 summit in London.

Buckingham Palace stressed the queen was not offended by Berlusconi and that it had been a “jovial lighthearted moment.”


Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield contributed to this report from Rome.

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