President Obama Exercises Diplomacy, Helps Avert Mess (Again)

By MichaelJames

Apr 4, 2009 1:28pm

On the heels of his negotiations at the G-20 economic summit – where he negotiated a way out of a potential logjam spurred by a heated debate between France and China over tax havens – President Obama exercised his negotiating skills once again on this overseas trip, this time at the NATO Summit.

This time the debate was over whether Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen should become the next secretary general of NATO.

Rasmussen enjoyed widespread support among leaders of 27 member states, with one notable exception: Turkey. The Muslim nation objected to Rasmussen’s outspoken support of free speech during the 2006 controversy over cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that appeared in Danish newspapers.

But President Obama supported his candidacy, today calling Rasmussen "an outstanding public servant, somebody with an extraordinary reputation, and I have confidence that he’s the right man to help lead NATO during a period in which we are moving from a vision first created in the 20th century to a vision that responds to 21st-century challenges."

Friday night at a three-hour working dinner in Baden Baden, Germany, President Obama played an “the lead role” in opening up the discussion about Rasmussen’s candidacy, a source who was there — and is not a member of the Obama administration — tells ABC News.

Obama told his fellow NATO leaders that he believed Rasmussen was the right man for the job, but that everyone needs to be convinced. Mr. Obama told the leaders that all countries need to be able voice their concerns.

With that, Turkish President Abdullah Gul voiced his concerns. This enabled Gul to avoid “feeling like a decision was already precooked," the source says. “This was critical because like other countries, if you’re put in a corner then you recede. If you feel like people are forcing you into a decision that has already been made you’ll rebel.”

Adds the source: “It’s important for small counties to feel that they have a voice. Obama gave this to Turkey.”

But it became clear that no progress was going to come Friday night, a senior administration official tells ABC News. So President Obama suggested to everyone that they sleep on it and revisit the issue in the morning.

At Saturday morning’s NATO session – a discussion largely about Afghanistan – the pressing need to finalize a decision about who would be the next secretary general was apparent. Following the morning session there were a round of private phone from leaders to Gul.

And Obama, Rasmussen and Gul had another conversation, for about an hour, according to Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. Jim Jones (Ret.), and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

"Turkey’s position was not ever against the individual or the country; it was primarily about the fact that they wanted to have their views and their concerns about terrorism properly articulated in ways that the rest of the Alliance could understand," Jones told reporters on the flight to Prague.

"As a result of the dialogue between the three heads of the state, they found a common ground that allowed Turkey to believe that their legitimate concerns about terror were going to be addressed, and Denmark, the Prime Minister found common ground to where, in his capacity as Secretary General, that Turkey now feels certain that he will take their considerations — take under account their considerations Alliance-wide," Jones said.

When the three men returned to the main session, Jones told reporters, they had smiles on their faces, indicating that a deal of some sort had been clinched.

“This was a different style than what the leader are used to from a U.S. President," the non-Obama administration source said. "Obama was instrumental in making this happen. Obama eventually clenched the decision with his leadership – and because he listened to what people said.”

Said Jones: "I think it was a very helpful moment.  I think that our President really was instrumental in bringing about this common ground and finding this common ground — and as a result the Alliance has a new Secretary General elected unanimously."

Added Gibbs, "President Obama understands that he’s somebody that seeks out and I think is very good at achieving a sense of common ground.  I think for the new Secretary General-elect to be done in a way that was unanimous speaks to a good start for him and continued momentum for NATO."

Turkey has long carried a frustration with Europe for being excluded from key decision, and it’s assumed that part of the negotiations include giving Turkey more of a voice in continental organizations. Sources say that discussions about Turkey being able to join the European Defense Agency are forthcoming.

In addition, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said he’s discussed with President Obama the existence in Denmark of Kurdish ROJ TV. The station has ties to the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist organization. According to Erdogan, Turkey has asked Rasmussen to shut down Kurdish ROJ TV, but Rasmussen has refused. Part of the agreement might also involve Kurdish ROJ TV.

"The Alliance rejects terrorism in any form," Jones said, "but we all have our specific concerns as it relates to what’s going on inside our borders — Turkey, in particular."

There were, President Obama said today of Rasmussen’s new gig, "important efforts to make sure that everybody felt included. And I want to thank, in particular, Turkey for raising some concerns having to do with their security issues and their confidence that the new secretary general would address them. So I congratulate all the parties concerned in arriving at a outstanding outcome."

– Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

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