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De Hoop Scheffer Takes Over As NATO Secretary-General

Brussels, 5 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Former Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer took over today as the secretary-general of NATO.

Arriving for his first day of work, de Hoop Scheffer said that Afghanistan is NATO's immediate priority. He said that yesterday's agreement on a new Afghan Constitution underlines the importance of the country's reconstruction and stabilization.

"As political developments go, [we will] focus on Afghanistan, and Iraq, of course, will also be on the agenda at a certain stage. But let's take the events step by step," he said.

De Hoop Scheffer said a decision on a U.S. proposal for NATO to take on a military role in Iraq will have to wait. He also said he hopes to ensure unity in the alliance, which was deeply divided over the war in Iraq.

De Hoop Scheffer succeeds Lord George Robertson, who stepped down at the end of 2003 after four years as chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.