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US names new chief of Nato's forces in Europe

A seasoned general who served in Vietnam, speaks Russian and helped negotiate the Dayton accords on Bosnia is to be named the new commander of Nato forces in Europe, the Pentagon confirmed yesterday.

General Wesley Clark, 52, is currently head of the US southern command, based in Panama, which is responsible for US troops in Latin America.

As Supreme Commander, Europe (Saceur), he will take over from Gen George Joulwan, who is retiring. The post entails command of all Allied Nato forces and US troops based in Europe and has always been filled by an American.

The choice of the new commander has assumed particular importance because of the accumulation of major political issues facing the alliance. They include the planned withdrawal of Nato troops from Bosnia next year, differences with Russia over the eastward expansion of Nato and France's continued insistence that a European be appointed to head the southern European command.

Gen Clark is said to have a highly developed sense of politics and diplomacy. An unnamed Pentagon official was quoted as saying that the job requires somebody to be "both a soldier and a statesman, to deal not only with military officials but the leaders of governments. Gen Clark fits the bill".

A graduate of West Point who was decorated in Vietnam, the general conforms to the classic pattern of US army high-flyers, combining senior commands with more political and training posts. He has served with Nato in Europe before, as senior military assistant to General Alexander Haig.

Like President Bill Clinton, to whom he owes his latest promotion, Gen Clark is a native of Arkansas and studied at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, although the two were not contemporaries.