Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will become Nato’s new Secretary General when Britain’s George Robertson stands down at the end of the year.

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The 55-year-old Dutchman was appointed by the alliance’s decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, in a move that has been welcomed by US President George W Bush.

Rebuilding transatlantic ties will be a priority for the new chief – the reputation of the world’s biggest military alliance was damaged earlier this year, when its members were unable to agree whether or not to support the war in Iraq.

Mr De Hoop Scheffer supported the US action, but significantly, refused to criticise the European countries that did not. It was that skilled manoeuvring which won him support on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr Bush said: “Mr De Hoop Scheffer is a leader deeply committed to freedom and to strong and effective transatlantic cooperation. I look forward to working with him.”

Mr Bush also paid tribute to Lord Robertson “for his many achievements during his four years as secretary general”.

During Lord Robertson’s term Nato welcomed seven new countries and embarked on a change agenda to cope with future challenges.

The president added: “The American people will always remember Lord Robertson’s leadership when, after the September 11 attacks, Nato invoked its solemn collective defence clause for the first time in its history.

“On behalf of all Americans, I extend best wishes to Lord Robertson as he prepares to depart his post as secretary general of Nato and America’s gratitude for a job well done.”

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