OTTAWA (AFP) — Canada's Defense Minister Peter MacKay expressed surprise Monday that the United States would reportedly promote him to European allies to become the next NATO chief.
"That's breaking news to me," MacKay told a press conference. "I've never had discussions with (US) Vice President (Joe) Biden about this."
Biden, according to The Washington Post newspaper, is to press European allies in the coming days to support MacKay's candidacy as NATO secretary general when the post becomes open mid-2009.
Washington wants MacKay to be appointed to reward Canada for its "valiant combat performance in Afghanistan," according to Post columnist Jim Hoagland.
European members of the 26-country alliance, however, are said to prefer the tradition of giving the post to a European. The US daily counted five possible contenders from Denmark, Norway, Scandinavia, Poland and Bulgaria.
According to his spokesman, MacKay is not seeking the job.
But the minister told reporters he also does not support tradition or geography preventing anyone from vying for the post.
"I don't believe that a person's nationality, given the number of NATO countries there, should ever be a bar to ascendancy of any role in NATO," MacKay said.
"I don't think that traditions, in the sense of geography, should be a restriction on any position with NATO."
MacKay, 43, has been defense minister since August 2007. He was previously foreign affairs minister since his Conservative Party won election in January 2006.
In January, the British magazine The Economist also touted MacKay as well as Canada's former deputy prime minister John Manley to succeed NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
Since 2002, 112 Canadian soldiers, one senior diplomat and two aid workers have died in Afghanistan, where Canada has deployed 2,750 troops as part of the International Security Assistance Force to rout insurgents.
MacKay acknowledged a "growing appreciation" for Canada's role within the NATO alliance, but not only for its actions in Afghanistan.
NATO leaders will meet next month in Strasbourg, France, for an annual summit.
The US military strategy in Afghanistan is to be unveiled at the meeting, and France will be welcomed back into NATO's military command structure after a four-decade absence.
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