Pressure on Claes to resign today

Willy Claes, Nato's secretary-general, will come under pressure to resign today when Nato ambassadors meet in Brussels. They will be assessing the damage caused to the alliance's credibility by the scandal in which Mr Claes is embroiled.

A Belgian parliamentary commission recommended on Saturday that Mr Claes, a government minister before he took over the Nato job, should face trial on corruption charges. On Thursday, the Belgian parliament will vote on whether to accept the commission's advice, thereby putting the chief of the world's most powerful military alliance in the dock.

It is clear that Nato is hoping Mr Claes will do the decent thing and offer his resignation. The longer he hangs on, the more embarrassing the situation becomes, said Brussels officials; this is likely to be spelled out to Mr Claes today.

Successors are being canvassed at Nato headquarters, with Uffe Elleman- Jensen, the former Danish foreign minister, emerging as favourite. Suggestions that Douglas Hurd, the former British foreign secretary, might take the job, are being played down as Mr Hurd probably does not want to leave his new lucrative City post.

The parliamentary commission ruling brought to a head months of speculation over Mr Claes's future. It is alleged that he knew about illegal payments to his Flemish Socialist Party by the Italian defence contractor, Agusta, in 1988, when he was Belgium's economics minister.

Mr Claes, known for his blunt-speaking style, has protested his innocence, but on Saturday he showed the first sign that he might have to resign. The Belgian newspaper Dimanche Matin yesterday quoted Mr Claes as saying he would not give up his Nato job before the full session of the Belgian parliament decides on Thursday whether to order a trial. He told the paper he was not sure if he could go before parliament to defend his case, as he did before the commission on Friday. "I have not decided yet ... I have to think first."

Political figures have increasingly called for Mr Claes to stand down. "Nato is going through a difficult transformation process; this cannot be done with a broken-winged chairman ... we cannot afford a Willygate", said Frits Bokestein, leader of the Dutch Liberal Party.

Andrew Marshall, page 21

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