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Monday, August 2, 1999 Published at 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK

UK Politics

Robertson ready for Nato hot seat

George Robertson awaiting a "unique opportunity"

UK Defence Secretary George Robertson is expected to be chosen as Nato's new secretary general by ambassadors of the 19 alliance members.

Changing face of Nato
The rise of George Robertson
The role of secretary-general
Robertson profile
Alliance's Cold War roots
Fast facts:
Nato: Who, what, why
The ambassadors have been meeting in Brussels to discuss approving the appointment of Mr Robertson in place of Spain's Javier Solana. They are expected to make a decision on Wednesday.

[ image: Javier Solana: New role within EU]
Javier Solana: New role within EU
The defence secretary has emerged as the clear favourite in recent days and could move into the post within days.

However, Downing Street said it did not expect a decision on Monday.

The UK defence secretary and Hamilton South MP was proposed for the Nato top job by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr Solana will become foreign policy co-ordinator for the European Union, in charge of a new European defence initiative.

Plain speaker

Mr Robertson is regarded as having emerged from the Kosovo conflict with increased international standing, as a result of the hard line both he and Mr Blair pursued.

On Monday he also won the backing of former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Portillo.

Michael Portillo: "I congratulate George"
Mr Portillo, who had been regarded as a contender for the post, told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "I congratulate George and wish him well."

He said that one of Mr Robertson's main hurdles was to win back the confidence of the Russians after relations with Nato were damaged during the Kosovo conflict.

'Too early'

He said: "He has to win the trust of the Russians and they have to believe that he is a plain speaking, plain dealer and he is all of those things."

Asked whether he had been asked to do the job, he said: "I wasn't approached. I would have been very flattered and it is a great honour even to be considered."

However, he added: "I think it is a job more for someone in their 50s than in their 40s, indeed when Lord Carrington did it he was in his 60s, so I think it would have been a bit too early for me."

Departure would trigger reshuffle

Mr Robertson's appointment to Nato would mean a reshuffle within Mr Blair's Cabinet - less than a week after the prime minister unveiled changes to his government.

BBC Scotland reporter Colin MacKinnon in George Robertson's constituency
It would also trigger a by-election, as Mr Robertson would have to relinquish his central Scotland seat.

Mr Robertson has refused to be drawn on who would replace him as defence secretary, but Scottish Secretary Dr John Reid, a former defence minister, is a favourite.

Dr Reid's could in turn be replaced by his deputy, Brian Wilson, at the Scotland Office.

Mr Robertson's move would also mean a by-election, with the prospect of a strong challenge by the Scottish National Party.

The defence secretary had a majority of nearly 16,000 at the last election.

However, the nationalists would hope for a repeat of their success in the old Hamilton constituency in 1967 when Winnie Ewing won an historic victory.

Mr Robertson has refused to discuss the possible implications if he leaves the Ministry of Defence, stressing only that he is honoured to be considered for the Nato job.

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