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NATO Selects Dutch Foreign Minister as New Secretary General - 2003-09-22


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.