- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

STRASBOURG, FRANCE (AP) - NATO was deadlocked Saturday over the choice of a new secretary-general after Turkey blocked the candidacy of a Dane who angered Muslims by defending the right to print cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, officials said.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was seen as the front-runner but he infuriated many Muslims by defending freedom of speech during an uproar over a Danish newspaper’s publication of the cartoons in 2005. He has also angered Turkey by opposing its membership in the European Union.

Turkey has told other NATO nations that it remained opposed to Fogh Rasmussen on the grounds that he would be a bad choice at a time when NATO was trying to win support from Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to a diplomat from a NATO country who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

There was no decision at a working dinner Friday and no progress was made Saturday morning despite intense efforts, the diplomat said.

All 28 NATO members must agree on the choice of a new leader.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi created a stir Saturday after making the German chancellor wait while he spoke with Turkey’s prime minister about the negotiations.

Berlusconi was seen talking on his mobile phone as he exited his car on the German side of the Rhine River ahead of a symbolic walk across the Europa Bridge to 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.

An Italian government official said Berlusconi had phoned Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a “last-minute” bid to try to persuade him to overcome Turkey’s resistance to Fogh Rasmussen’s candidacy. Officials from two other countries also confirmed the conversation.

All spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing, sensitive negotiations.

The term of the alliance’s current head, Dutch diplomat Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, runs out Aug. 1.

The secretary-general’s duties include running the day-to-day business of the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels. The post has in the past been filled in private consultations between member states, and the choices provoked little public interest.

Turkish television said Fogh Rasmussen had attended a meeting between President Barack Obama and Gul on Saturday morning.

Other possible candidates for NATO’s top post include Canada’s Defense Minister Peter MacKay, Britain’s former Defense minister Des Browne, and Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere.

Denmark has twice before offered candidates for the NATO job and lost.


Hacaoglu reported from Ankara, Turkey. AP correspondents Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, David Rising in Kehl, Germany, and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTSd ate of cartoons from 2006 to 2005, graf 2.)

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