NATO welcomes Denmark’s Rasmussen as new secretary general


Brussels : NATO welcomed its 12th secretary general Monday as Denmark’s former prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen arrived for his first day in the organisation’s top job.

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At a low-key ceremony under the flags of the alliance’s 28 members, 56-year-old Rasmussen was welcomed to NATO by his deputy, Claudio Bisogniero, the head of the alliance’s military committee, Admiral Giampaolo di Paola, and a handful of alliance staff.

His task over the next four years will be to chair NATO meetings and summits and coordinate debates and decisions among member states.

The centre-right politician served as Denmark’s premier from November 2001 to April 2009, when he was appointed at NATO’s 60th anniversary summit.

His nomination aroused some controversy. Turkey was initially opposed, in protest at his refusal to condemn the publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed in his country in 2005.

Rasmussen takes over as NATO is deeply embroiled in Afghanistan. The alliance has some 64,000 men in the country, and has been locked in bitter fighting with Taliban-led insurgents ahead of presidential elections Aug 20.

The mission is growing increasingly unpopular in many NATO states as losses mount.

Tensions with Russia are also set to occupy his tenure following last year’s Russian invasion of NATO hopeful Georgia.

NATO froze ties with Russia after the war, but re-started formal cooperation in the spring. The sides remain at odds over issues such as NATO enlargement and missile defence.

On Thursday, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said he wanted Rasmussen to give up the idea of taking Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance as a mark of “respect” for Russia.

Rasmussen is to chair his first NATO meeting Tuesday when he meets the ambassadors of the alliance’s 28 members.