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Who will be the new NATO chief?

Oblique process takes on added importance with stepped up Afghanistan mission.

Ankara has a host of complaints about the Dane and is taking very seriously its role representing a range of other Muslim countries that have no veto to wield against him. As prime minister, Rasmussen refused to apologize when a Danish cartoonist outraged Muslims with caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. Also, he has said European Union candidate Turkey should never become a member of the bloc. Finally, a Kurdish-run television channel is allowed to operate out of Denmark, which causes great consternation for the Turkish government.

“It is unacceptable that NATO be headed by an individual who has in the past rudely disrespected our values and religious beliefs,” senior Turkish official Suat Kiniklioglu has said. “He is a problematic man.”

The Transatlantic Institute’s Daniel Rackowski did not dismiss the Turks’ concerns. “It’s a big issue for countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, where NATO has an active role,” he noted, “so NATO allies should ask themselves whether Rasmussen is the right guy for the post.”

But “it would be politically risky for Turkey to veto him,” Rackowski said. If Turkey held out against its 25 allies — most of whom are also members of the EU Turkey seeks to join — “what do they have to win?” Rackowski also pointed out that U.S. President Barack Obama will be in Ankara just a couple of days after the NATO summit, and Turkish reticence to support an otherwise uncontested pick could make that meeting uncomfortable at a time when the Turks want to shine.

But public statements from Turkish leaders in the final days ahead of the summit have done nothing to clear up the question of what they plan to do if the organization moves forward, as appears likely, on the Rasmussen nomination.

Visiting Brussels late last week, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said both that he wasn’t aware there were any official candidates for the post and that Turkey didn’t have “any attitude against the (Danish) prime minister or anyone else.”

At the same time, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the government had been receiving appeals from several Muslim states, asking Turkey to veto Rasmussen.

Rasmussen welcomed Gul’s comments that appeared to back down on blocking his nomination, while maintaining his refusal to confirm that he was, in fact, a candidate.

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