NATO has chosen Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to be its new Secretary
General. He will succeed Britain's George Robertson who is stepping down in December
after a four-year term.
Outgoing Secretary General Robertson says Mr. de Hoop Scheffer has impressed
his colleagues with his judgment and grasp of the issues, and has carved out
a reputation for professionalism and straight talking.
NATO is facing challenging times, according to Mr. Robertson, and the 55-year-old
Dutch foreign minister is the right man to ensure that the organization remains
the world's most successful defense alliance.
NATO this year faced its worst split in decades, when France and Germany
lead opposition to the Iraq war, severely straining ties with the United States
as well as with other alliance members.
The Netherlands quietly supported the war. Analysts say Mr. de Hoop Scheffer
is seen as someone who can improve ties between Washington and NATO, while
also being a strong supporter of European integration.
Mr. de Hoop Scheffer met with President Bush last week during an official
visit to Washington, and diplomats say the session went well and the United
States supported his candidacy.
Mr. de Hoop Scheffer is a career diplomat who became a politician. He served
in the Dutch Mission to NATO in the 1980s and later entered the Dutch parliament.
There he became leader of the center-right Christian Democrats.
He is the third Dutchman to head NATO. Dirk Stikker served as Secretary General
in the 1960s and Joseph Luns in the 1970s to early 80s.
The process for choosing a new NATO leader is very secretive. But several
other names had been mentioned earlier, including Portuguese European Union
commissioner Antonio Vitorino, Norway's Defense Minister Kristen Krohn Devold,
and Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino.