Ankara made clear Saturday it would not agree to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen being appointed the next head of NATO at an alliance summit, after Italian prime minister telephoned his Turkish counterpart to discuss the issue. (UPDATED)
"Why should Turkey agree on a candidate today? Yesterday the (Turkish) prime minister spoke about it and we are sticking with that idea," a senior Turkish government official told Reuters after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi telephoned his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan to convince him to accept Europe's candidate for the next head of the military alliance.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who has privately announced his candidacy for the top civilian post at NATO, is the front-runner to replace Dutch diplomat Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
Turkey says the Dane's unwillingness to suspend broadcasts from a Denmark-based TV station linked to the terror organization PKK, and his stance during the 2006 crisis over a Danish newspapers publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, cast doubts over his ability to lead the alliance.
Berlusconi threw out the protocol rule book earlier on Saturday, missing NATO ceremonies and failing to greet his hosts because he was so engrossed in a phone call with Erdogan in a last-minute bid to try to persuade him to overcome Turkey’s resistance to Rasmussen’s candidacy.
"From the moment Prime Minister Berlusconi woke up this morning he has been in direct contact with Prime Minister Erdogan, trying to find a solution to this problem," a source close to the Italian leader told Reuters.
But his lengthy intervention failed to achieve a breakthrough.
Obama talks with Gul and Rasmussen
In the French city of Strasbourg, where the 28 NATO leaders were holding the second day of a summit, U.S. President Barack Obama also had private talks with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul and Rasmussen, sources told Anatolian Agency.
The Turkish official in Ankara accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel, co-host of the summit, of pressuring leaders to agree now when a decision was not necessary before July.
"Why are we being pushed? Let's talk about it and then we can decide. Merkel has been very active on this and has pushed leaders on it, especially at the G20 (summit in London on Thursday)," he told Reuters.
However, he left open the possibility that Ankara could accept Rasmussen at a later date if the Danish leader made amends to the Muslim world for the cartoon crisis.
"Maybe we can change, but it will be up to Rasmussen and other leaders (to convince us)," the official said.
Rasmussen is due in Istanbul next Monday to attend a conference of the Alliance of Civilizations, founded by Turkey and Spain to improve understanding between the West and the Muslim world.