Nato hopefuls head to US for quizzing

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The Independent Online

The CVs are neatly typed out, the interview suits freshly dry-cleaned and the shoes polished. The two main candidates to become Nato Secretary- General are off to the United States today to be interviewed by Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State.

Mr Christopher, representing the largest shareholder in the alliance, will quiz Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, former Danish foreign minister, and Ruud Lubbers, the former Dutch prime minister.

Mr Ellemann-Jensen, a witty, energetic character, put himself up as a candidate at the last moment when Nato was last searching for a secretary- general, but was pipped to the post by Willy Claes.

Given the subsequent history of Mr Claes - he resigned last month over allegations of bribes paid to a helicopter company when he was Belgian economy minister in 1988 - the alliance countries might well wish that they had taken the Danish option.

However, this time it seems that they may go Dutch. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the Danish Prime Minister, said that Mr Ellemann-Jensen would remove himself from the contest if Mr Lubbers seemed to be the preferred candidate. "If there is unity for a candidate other than [Ellemann-Jensen], the Danish candidate will not stand in the way," Mr Rasmussen said yesterday.

Mr Lubbers already has the backing of Germany, France, Spain, Italy and several other small European Union states.

The US was keeping silent about the selection process yesterday.

However, given the Willy Claes fiasco, Washington might be well advised to investigate the recent political history of the candidates and ask gently about any recent purchases of helicopters.