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Politico: NATO twist: Romania president seeks to challenge Rutte for top job

March 21, 2024

* Klaus Iohannis wants to lead NATO, Romanian diplomats told counterparts in the defense alliance, https://www.politico.eu/ reads.     Romania notified allies on Thursday that President Klaus Iohannis was considering challenging frontrunner Mark Rutte for the NATO top job.   Iohannis' last-minute move comes as the biggest powers in the 31-strong alliance already declared support for Rutte over the last 24 hours, with the U.S., the U.K., Germany and France all saying they back the outgoing Dutch prime minister as the next leader of NATO.   About 10 countries remain undecided, including some Eastern European nations who share strategic concerns with Russia-skeptic Romania, but they will find it difficult to openly challenge U.S. President Joe Biden’s preferred candidate.   Two NATO diplomats with knowledge of the development confirmed the Romanian move to POLITICO. Bloomberg first reported Iohannis's potential challenge. Romanian officials are not disputing the information.   "Through the missions of each member state, intentions [and] suggestions are informally transmitted to NATO," a government official told local media. The Romanian presidential office declined a request for comment.   NATO officials fear that Iohannis' late entry could be seen as dividing the unity of the alliance, which is already facing threats from the potential return of Donald Trump as U.S. president. Trump has repeatedly vowed to weaken the collective defense stipulated by NATO.   But Eastern European countries are annoyed by what they see as Rutte's lack of incentive in reaching out to nations on the border with Russia. Saying that they don't mean to stand in the way of Rutte, a senior Eastern European diplomat said: "At least somebody has to ask, 'OK, Mark, how are you going to deal with Russia?'"   They also cite Rutte's repeated failure to bring Dutch defense spending up to the target of 2 percent of GDP agreed by all allies a decade ago, which they said could be used against him if Trump were to be elected.   That's in addition to the bilateral ill-feeling between the Netherlands and Romania, two NATO members who are part of the European Union, as Rutte's government for years refused Bucharest's entry into Schengen, the borderless zone for EU countries, citing corruption and criminal activities.   Mihai Constantin, the government spokesman, said on Thursday, asked whether Romania had notified its allies about nminating president Klaus Iohannis for the position of NATO secretary general, that he had no data to cmmunicate on that subject.   “I saw, together with you. It is the development of a topic about what will happen with the future NATO secretary general, who will hold that position. I was asked by other colleagues of yours, including those who write for the international press. It is a subject of interest , not only for Romania, but at present, I have no data to convey on this topic on behalf of the government,” said Mihai Constantin, when asked if Romania had notified other NATO countries that it intends to nominate president Klaus Iohannis as candidate for the position of NATO secretary general.   Asked who can make this nomination on Romania's behalf, Constantin said: “I don't think that every NATO member should make nominations for sceretary general.” “At NATO level, decisions are unanimous. There are political talks which are not hasty, especially when we speak about the highest position of this essential organization, especially in today's context. If we have public information about those matters, I will be able to tell you,” the gorvernment spokesman added.   In a response to G4Media.ro, the Presidential Administration said it “does not comment on rumours”. The name of Klaus Iohannis has also been floated to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as head of NATO in the past. Before the mandate of the current NATO Secretary General was extended, the president was on the list of possible successors.   Moreover, in 2022, President Klaus Iohannis did not rule out the possibility of being Jens Stoltenberg’s successor at the head of NATO. “If such a proposal were made to me, I would evaluate the situation very seriously and make a public statement,” the Romanian President said at the time.  

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