Brittan tipped for Nato top job

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The Independent Online
SARAH HELM

Brussels

Sir Leon Brittan, the EU Trade Commissioner and former Conservative Cabinet minister, emerged yesterday as a British candidate for the job of Nato Secretary-General.

In a surprise move, John Major revealed that he wanted to propose a "heavyweight" British candidate to contest the job, following the resignation last week of the Belgian, Willy Claes.

The Government is understood to be disappointed with the quality of the two candidates who have come forward so far: Uffe Elleman-Jensen, the former Danish Foreign Minister, and Ruud Lubbers, former Dutch Prime Minister.

Mr Major revealed that Britain was considering fielding a candidate in a telephone conversation yesterday with Wim Kok, the Dutch Prime Minister. No names were discussed.

Nato sources said last night that Sir Leon, regarded by London as a highly effective EU Commissioner, was now considered the front-runner.

The US administration is insisting that Nato selects a Secretary-General with first-rate diplomatic skills, who can meet the challenge of overseeing the deployment of a massive Nato peace-enforcement force to the former Yugoslavia, and raise standards after Mr Claes.

Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, would have been first choice but has made clear he is not interested. Lord Owen, who recently stepped down as mediator in former Yugoslavia, is believed to be interested, but he is not popular with the US.

Should Sir Leon Brittan move over to Nato, Britain would be placed in the awkward position of selecting a new Commissioner at the EU. That could reopen the split in the party over Europe, with Euro-sceptics pressing for someone who would be more extremist than the Europhile Sir Leon.

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