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Ex-Dutch Premier Seen as Likely NATO Leader


BRUSSELS — Former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers is likely to be selected as the next NATO secretary general, possibly as early as next week, according to alliance officials here.

"The choice now seems clear," said an official who declined to be identified. "A leading candidate has emerged."

The Dutch representative to the 16-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization was expected to formally propose Lubbers at a private meeting of alliance ambassadors Tuesday. Barring unforeseen objections, he could then be chosen and in place by mid-November.

"If there is consensus, no one will want to wait," the official said, rejecting the possibility that member states might delay the appointment until either an alliance defense ministers meeting scheduled for Nov. 29-30 or a gathering of NATO foreign ministers planned the following week.

In Washington, U.S. officials said the Clinton Administration had no serious objections to Lubbers' selection but had not endorsed him because there are other potential candidates to consider.

"While other countries seem to have made up their minds, we haven't," one senior official said. "We're looking at a number of candidates. The U.S. has not completed its review."

U.S. officials are planning to meet with Lubbers in the next few days to discuss the post.

The search for a new head of NATO began 12 days ago with the resignation of Willy Claes, who faces trial in Belgium on corruption charges linked to his tenure as a government minister.

Claes' departure left NATO without a chief executive at one of the most crucial times in alliance history, and there has been a sense of urgency about finding a successor.

NATO is now in the final stages of planning the deployment of about 50,000 troops--probably including thousands of Americans--to enforce any peace settlement in the Balkans.

The only other candidate formally put forward for the NATO helm, former Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, was reportedly opposed by French President Jacques Chirac because of his outspoken opposition to recent French nuclear testing.

Lubbers led three different Dutch coalition governments between 1982 and 1994, earning a reputation as a skilled consensus-builder.

"He's flexible, but not soft," noted Jan Blaauw, a member of the Dutch Parliament and a defense expert. "He is very pragmatic. NATO will be getting an old fox."

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