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U.S. backs Danish leader for NATO head: reports

The Obama administration has told NATO allies it will back Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussuen to head the alliance, according to media reports, an endorsement that would quash speculation of Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay's appointment.

The Obama administration has told NATO allies it will back Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussuen to head the alliance, according to media reports, an endorsement that would quash speculation of Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay's appointment.

The Agence France-Presse news agency quoted an unnamed NATO diplomat as saying "the United States has made up its mind. It will support Anders Fogh Rasmussen."

A U.S. source close to the Obama administration told the Reuters news agency that Washington has approved Rasmussen to take over the job of NATO secretary general from the current head, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who steps down on July 31.

The purported endorsement comes after U.S. national security adviser James Jones visited Rasmussen in Denmark earlier this month.

A senior U.S. official told AFP that a number of alliance representatives "are looking at Rasmussen as a leading candidate," but that no decision has been made.

Long-shot candidacy

MacKay has been mentioned as possible successor, although he was considered a long shot for the position, which traditionally goes to a European.

Media outlets had reported earlier this month that MacKay had the backing of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Biden in turn has refused to reveal his commitment, but has said that no country's representatives should be ruled out.

Rasmussen, 56, has been Denmark's prime minister since 2001. He supported the war in Iraq, has sent Danish troops there, and has pushed NATO members to send more troops to Afghanistan. He is also a contender to become leader of the European Union later this year.

On Friday Rasmussen declined speaking to reporters about the NATO post, but has not ruled himself out of the race.

Other candidates for the post include Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw "Radek" Sikorski, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere and former British defence secretary Des Browne.

The new secretary general will likely be named in early April, ahead of the NATO summit scheduled for April 3-4 in Germany and France.

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