Incoming NATO chief pledges to confront religious prejudice, but defends prior position over Muhammad cartoons

The incoming head of NATO Fogh Rasmussen called for a balance between free speech and respect for religious feelings, after a dispute over his support for the right to caricature the prophet Muhammad. Rasmussen, who received objections from Turkey about his suitability for NATO’s top job, said he plans to pay close attention to religious sensibilities and sensitivities when he takes over the post of secretary-general in August.

“I would never myself depict any religious figure, including the Prophet Muhammad, in a way that could hurt other people’s feelings, […] I respect Islam as one of the world’s major religions,” the former Danish prime minister said at a conference in Istanbul, Turkey.

Rasmussen tried to distance himself from the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons, but resisted calls to apologize for them, citing freedom of speech, and that his government could not be held responsible for the actions of Denmark’s free press.

The row over his appointment was brought to resolve after US President Barack Obama guaranteed that Turkish commands would be present at the alliance’s command, and that one of Rasmussen’s deputies would be a Turk.