Rutte seals Nato top job after lone rival drops out

Friday, Jun 21, 2024

BUCHAREST: Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday clinched the race to become the next head of Nato at a pivotal time for the alliance, after sole challenger Romanian President Klaus Iohannis pulled out.

The veteran politician, 57, is expected to be formally named by Nato´s 32 nations in the coming days and should take over when current chief Jens Stoltenberg´s term ends on October 1. Rutte will come in at a perilous moment for the Western allies as Russia´s war in Ukraine drags on and Donald Trump battles to reclaim the presidency in the United States come November.

After staking his claim for the job last year following the collapse of his coalition, staunch Ukraine backer Rutte quickly won the support of heavyweights the United States, Britain, France and Germany. But he had to use all the diplomatic skills gleaned during almost 14 years in charge of the Netherlands to win over hold-outs led by Turkiye and Hungary.

Rutte overcame Turkish reticence with an April visit to Istanbul, before finally sealing a deal with Hungary´s Viktor Orban at a European Union summit this week. That left the last sticking point as Iohannis, whose surprise bid had ruffled feathers among allies banking on a smooth appointment for Rutte ahead of a Nato summit in Washington next month.