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May 29, 2017

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Norway's ex-premier named new NATO chief

BRUSSELS--Former Norwegian Premier Jens Stoltenberg was named the next NATO chief on Friday, taking over from current Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at a key moment in Europe.

Stoltenberg told a press conference after news of his appointment that it was crucial the 28-nation transatlantic alliance kept up military spending.

"We are neighbor to a superpower (Russia) with increasing military capacity and increasing military activity in the Northern regions, but also along the borders with Ukraine," he said.

"This only underlines the importance of having both sufficient budgetary allocations to the military forces but also an effective structure of the military."

An economist by training and a radical opponent of the alliance in his youth, Stoltenberg takes the helm as Europe worries over a Russian build-up on its eastern fringe after Moscow's takeover of Crimea.

His appointment came quicker than anticipated, the decision made "without opposition" after a comfortable consensus grew around Stoltenberg, a diplomatic source said.

Stoltenberg was initially approached about the position in January but did not accept immediately, he said, claiming he wanted to be sure that the NATO members were in favor of his appointment.

He also thought it unlikely that NATO would call on a Norwegian after the alliance had been led by the Dane Rasmussen in recent years.

The White House said it welcomed the appointment.

In a statement, Washington said: "Mr. Stoltenberg is a proven leader with a demonstrated commitment to the transatlantic Alliance.

"We are confident he is the best person to ensure the continued strength and unity of the NATO Alliance."

Stoltenberg, who is 55, was the only candidate for the job and leaders of NATO's main powers, including U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, had all rallied around the former prime minister in recent weeks.

He was also praised by the man he will be replacing.

"I've known Jens Stoltenberg for many years and I know he's the right man to build on NATO's record of strength and success," said Rasmussen on Twitter.

In almost a decade leading the Norwegian government, Stoltenberg, who is the country's Labour Party chief, became known as a consensus maker, giving him some of the right credentials to maintain good relations with Russia.

Though he never had any particular fondness for defense or security matters, his experience as premier left him with a strong international network and honed his skills as a cross-border negotiator.

"This is a key strength given the Ukrainian crisis," a diplomat said in Brussels, where the NATO headquarters is located.

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