New NATO Chief Pledges Conciliation With Muslims

April 6, 2009

Author: Daren Butler and Ayla Jean Yackley

Source: Reuters

Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday he would pay close attention to religious sensibilities in his new role as NATO chief in comments aimed at allaying Muslim concern at his appointment.

Turkey had threatened to veto the former Danish prime minister's appointment over his handling of a 2006 crisis triggered by cartoons of Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper.

His comments at an Istanbul conference on Monday fell short of the outright apology which Turkish officials had hoped for.

"I was deeply distressed that the cartoons were seen by many Muslims as an attempt by Denmark to mark and insult or behave disrespectfully toward Islam or the Prophet Mohammad. Nothing could be further from my mind," he said

"I respect Islam as one of the world's major religions as well as its religious symbols," he said during a panel discussion at the conference aimed at building bridges between the Muslim world and the West.

The conference coincided with Barack Obama's first visit to the Muslim world as U.S. president. He was meeting Turkish officials in Ankara on Monday and was due to attend a dinner at the conference.

The row over his appointment, which threatened the image of unity at NATO's 60th anniversary summit, was resolved after Obama guaranteed Turkish commanders would be present at the alliance's command and that one of Rasmussen's deputies would be a Turk.