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And then there was one: Mark Rutte. Romania’s president withdraws from the race for NATO chief

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Romania’s president has withdrawn from the race to become NATO’s next secretary general, leaving outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte all but certain to head the world’s biggest military organization from October.

The office of President Klaus Iohannis said in a statement that Romania’s security council has backed Rutte’s bid. It also said that Iohannis had informed NATO late last week that he intended to pull out.

His withdrawal removes the last real hurdle Rutte might face. It should allow NATO to put on a show of unity and demonstrate solidarity with war-ravaged Ukraine when U.S. President Joe Biden and his counterparts meet in Washington on July 9-11 to mark NATO’s 75th birthday.

Rutte’s appointment could be sealed by a meeting of NATO ambassadors in coming days, or by the leaders when they meet in Washington. He would officially start work on Oct. 1.

NATO secretaries-general are responsible for chairing meetings and guiding sometimes delicate consultations among the 32 member countries to ensure that an organization that operates on consensus can continue to function.

On Tuesday, Hungary lifted its veto on Rutte’s candidacy after the long-serving Dutch prime minister gave written guarantees that he would not force Budapest to take part in the military alliance’s new plans to provide support to Ukraine should he be appointed.

NATO makes all of its decisions by consensus, giving any of the 32 member countries an effective veto, including on whether they should take part in any joint effort or operation.

Turkey had also voiced opposition to Rutte’s bid but lifted its objections in April.

Rutte has for months been the preferred candidate of the majority of NATO allies, including big members like the United States and Germany.

In office for a decade, outgoing Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has been a steady hand at NATO’s helm and has proved difficult to replace.

Biden and the NATO leaders had been due to name a successor when they met in Lithuania in July 2023, but no consensus could be found about a replacement.

At the White House on Monday, Biden joked that he would like the former Norwegian prime minister to stay longer, even though Stoltenberg has made it clear he will leave office this time after several extensions to his mandate.

“I mean it sincerely, you’ve been great. I just wish you’d extend your term another 10 years,” Biden said.

Iohannis is nearing the end of his second five-year term as Romania’s president and announced his intention to run in March.

Romania, a NATO member since 2004, borders Ukraine and played an increasingly prominent role in the alliance throughout Russia’s full-scale invasion, including hosting a NATO meeting of foreign ministers in November 2022.

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AP video journalist Nicolae Dumitrache in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.

By LORNE COOK
Associated Press

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