STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama won his spurs as a compromise broker at his first NATO summit on Saturday, persuading a reluctant Turkey to accept the Danish prime minister as the next head of the alliance.
But Obama came away with little more than warm words and token support for his new strategy to defeat Al Qaeda Islamic militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with only small European commitments of extra soldiers, trainers or money.
Encapsulating the difference between his approach and that of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was deeply unpopular in Europe, the new president said: “The United States came here to listen, to learn and to lead, because all of us have a responsibility to do our part. America cannot meet our global challenges alone. Nor can Europe meet them without America.”
The selection of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as secretary-general of 28-nation defence alliance was a success for co-hosts French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who pressed for a summit decision on the European candidate despite Turkish reservations.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had questioned Rasmussen’s ability to win the cooperation of the Muslim world because of his handling of a 2006 crisis over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper. He went as far as to call for another candidate on Friday, raising the stakes.
But Erdogan eventually relented, averting a potential crisis in Turkey’s already fraught relations with the European Union, after winning what he called guarantees from Obama on issues of concern. The U.S. leader is due to visit Turkey from Monday as part of his own outreach to the Muslim world.
Erdogan said one of Rasmussen’s deputies would be Turkish and Turks would also get more senior NATO military jobs.
Rasmussen said he fully understood Ankara’s concerns and told a news conference: “I made it clear I will reach out to the Muslim world and I will make sure we will cooperate closely with Turkey.”
Turkish officials said Denmark would act against a Kurdish TV station, close to separatist PKK guerrillas, which Ankara accuses of broadcasting support for terrorism from Danish soil.
They also said France and Germany had promised to be more cooperative in Turkey’s tortuous EU accession negotiations, although the extent of such goodwill remains to be seen from two leaders who explicitly oppose Turkish membership of the bloc.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi can share some credit for preparing the ground for a compromise in a long telephone call with Erdogan on Saturday.
Obama said his first trip to Europe in office had taught him that European politics was a lot like the U.S. Senate.
“There is a lot of wheeling and dealing and people are pursuing their interests,” he said, but on very important issues, leaders seemed able to rise above parochial interests to achieve common objectives.
Writing by Paul Taylor, editing by Timothy Heritage