Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen confirmed Friday that he is in the running to become the next NATO secretary general, ending weeks of speculation about whether he would seek the alliance's top job.

rasmussen-cp-6438299

It's unclear whether NATO member Turkey will back Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to become the alliance's next secretary general. ((Thierry Charlier/Associated Press))

The Dane infuriated some Muslims by speaking out in favour of freedom of speech during an uproar over Danish publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006. He has also angered Turkey by opposing its membership in the European Union.

"On this issue, we don't want NATO to be weakened," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference at the Chatham House think-tank in London.

Erdogan has criticized Fogh Rasmussen for his unwillingness to stop broadcasts by a Kurdish satellite television station, Roj TV, which Turkey accuses of putting out propaganda for Turkey's Kurdish separatist rebels.

"NATO is an organization whose duties are to ensure peace," he said. "But the mouthpiece of the terror organization in my country is broadcasting from Denmark. I have written to Mr. Fogh Rasmussen four years ago but he did not do anything."

Erdogan also criticized Fogh Rasmussen's attitude during the crisis over the publication of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons.

"How those who made no contribution to peace at that time, can contribute to peace now?" Erdogan said. "These are raising question marks."

"This is my personal opinion. I look at [his candidacy] negatively," Erdogan said.

He did not say whether Turkey would veto Fogh Rasmussen's candidacy.

Decision announced ahead of NATO summit

NATO leaders were expected to discuss choosing a new secretary general at a two-day summit in France and Germany starting Friday.

The Danish prime minister had been mentioned in speculation as a top candidate to replace outgoing Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a Dutchman, but he had declined to comment on the subject.

Fogh Rasmussen, 56, told his Liberal party colleagues of his decision before he left for the summit, party spokeswoman Inger Stoejberg told Denmark's TV2 News.

Other contenders for the position include Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, former British defence secretary Des Browne and former Bulgarian foreign minister Solomon Passy.

Selecting Fogh Rasmussen may be seen as unhelpful to NATO's efforts to rebuild relations with Russia.

Russia's ties with Denmark were badly damaged by the Danish refusal to extradite a top Chechen rebel envoy in the fall of 2002.

Rasmussen's government also angered the Kremlin by refusing to cancel an October 2002 conference of rebels and rights activists in Copenhagen held just days after a hostage-taking raid on a Moscow theatre.

Vladimir Putin, who was Russian president at the time, responded by cancelling his scheduled trip to Copenhagen for a summit with the European Union. The November 2002 meeting was moved to Brussels.