Dutch PM Rutte signals interest in NATO top job

FILE PHOTO: Dutch Prime Minister Rutte visits Ukraine

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Saturday he would be interested in succeeding Jens Stoltenberg as secretary-general of NATO, although he only saw a small chance of being picked for the job.

"Such a role would be interesting as it would offer the chance to contribute for a few years on the international stage in a period of dramatic global changes," Rutte said in an interview with radio station Den Haag FM.

"But there is a very big chance, given the political support for it, that this job will go to a European woman, which would also be very good."

Rutte, who unexpectedly announced his departure from Dutch politics in July soon after handing in the resignation of his fourth cabinet, said he did not know if he was considered a front-runner for role as head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and would not start a personal campaign.

Stoltenberg has been in post since 2014 and is due to step down in October 2024.

His term was extended in July for a fourth time, as the alliance's 31 member countries opted to stick with an experienced leader rather than try to agree on a successor with Russia's war in Ukraine raging on NATO's doorstep.

Before the alliance decided to stick with Stoltenberg, diplomats said Rutte would have been a strong candidate to succeed him, but the Dutchman had insisted he was not available at that time.

Some NATO governments had signalled that they thought it was time NATO had its first female secretary-general but no candidate emerged to garner the necessary consensus.

Rutte is the longest serving prime minister in Dutch history, a job he will keep in a caretaker capacity after elections on Nov. 22 until a new government is formed.

Asked about other international roles, Rutte said he wasn't interested in the "part-time job" of president of the European Council and he did not belong to the right political family to be considered for president of the European Commission.

(Reporting by Bart Meijer and Andrew Gray; Editing by Mike Harrison)