Netherlands’ Rutte to become next NATO chief

Mark Rutte will be the next NATO secretary-general after all 32 members of the alliance agreed that the outgoing Dutch prime minister will succeed Jens Stoltenberg.

Following endorsements from Hungary and Slovakia on Tuesday, Romania confirmed its support for Rutte on Thursday, with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis withdrawing his candidacy for the NATO top job.

During a meeting of the Supreme Council of National Defence, Iohannis said he had notified NATO allies about the withdrawal of his candidacy.

Rutte will take over NATO’s leadership at a critical time. His tenure will begin by October 2, just over a month before the U.S. election, which will shape the future of the military alliance that has served as Eastern Europe’s primary deterrent against an aggressive Russia. Former U.S. President Donald Trump, the current Republican candidate, has pledged to stay in NATO but has threatened to cut U.S. aid to Ukraine if reelected.

Observers credit Rutte for being a “Trump whisperer,” due to his ability to negotiate with politicians from diverse backgrounds, even earning the then-U.S. president’s praise: “I like this guy!”

Romania’s President Iohannis entered the race late, declaring his candidacy in March when two-thirds of NATO allies had already sided with Rutte. During his three-month campaign, Iohannis secured only one vote among the 32 allies — that of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who used his holdout to gain leverage and secure Hungary’s opt-out from NATO’s Ukraine tasks and financing.

Rutte’s selection follows a prolonged process that saw Stoltenberg’s term extended four times.

In 2017, allies extended the secretary-general’s term until the end of September 2020. In 2019, this date was moved to September 2022. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted another extension, set to run through September 2023. In July last year, NATO allies agreed to extend Stoltenberg’s term as secretary-general by a year.

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