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Biden suggests non-European can be NATO chief

Biden suggests non-European can be NATO chief

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday the next NATO secretary-general doesn't necessarily have to be a European.
Biden said it was no longer "a matter of policy (that) any member nation should be ruled out" for the 26-nation alliance's top position. Since NATO's creation in 1949 it has always gone to a European while NATO's military command is headed by a U.S. general.
His comments suggested that a bid by Canada's Defense Minister Peter Mackay stood a chance.
Canada has around 2,500 combat forces stationed in Afghanistan's volatile southern region.
Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been viewed as the front-runner for the job. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski wants to become the first time an official from the ex-Soviet bloc would receive the post.
The vice president added that Washington had not yet made a decision on a candidate but said a successor to current NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer would be picked at a NATO's leaders summit in April.
De Hoop Scheffer's term ends at the end of July.
The NATO secretary-general chairs the alliance's ministerial meetings and summits and oversees the day-to-day running of the alliance.
The main task is to forge consensus on key security challenges of the alliance, which have become larger than during the Cold War, so that the member nations can take unanimous decisions.
NATO has recently taken on military operations far beyond Europe's borders, most notably in Afghanistan.
De Hoop Scheffer took office in 2004. There is no written limit on the term of secretary general but in recent years NATO nations have informally agreed that the post should be limited to five years to avoid a repeat of the 13-year term of Joseph Luns of the Netherlands.
NATO decisions must be through consensus of all members. U.S. opinion is unofficially heavily weighted by tradition _ given its military muscle.