US seeks hold on World Bank's top job
May 18, 2007 - 11:53:10 PM

Washington, May 18 - The United States Friday reaffirmed its claim to naming the next World Bank head after former Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz agreed to quit, prompting relief in European capitals.

Names of possible candidates were swirling as the bank's board met to discuss the transition until Wolfowitz's June 30 exit - and to lock in an understanding that he has no executive power until then.

US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has said he would move quickly to help President George W. Bush find a nominee, though he would consult colleagues around the world.

'Traditionally, the American nominee has become the World Bank president,' White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Friday.

Wolfowitz, 63, agreed Thursday to resign, four days after a panel of World Bank directors accused him of ethics breaches when he arranged a hefty pay increase for his girlfriend at the bank.

A key planner of the Iraq war in his previous job, Wolfowitz gave up as Bush signalled he could no longer defend him in the face of fervent opposition led by US allies in Europe.

However, the face-saving deal to remove Wolfowitz seems to imply that other world powers will back a US nominee to replace him. The United States is the biggest contributor to the bank, which lends more than 20 billion dollars a year to combat poverty and disease.

Speculation on a successor includes outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is stepping down June 27 and met his ally Bush at the White House on Thursday.

'He is one of the people that is clearly being discussed,' Joe Stiglitz, former World Bank chief economist and Nobel laureate, told BBC radio.

Still, the list of candidates 'would probably begin with somebody with real experience in development,' he said.

Other names floated in published reports include former US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and US Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt. Some White House aides have suggested the US might propose Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson himself, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Israeli central bank head Stanley Fischer, a former World Bank chief economist and ex-vice chairman of Citigroup Inc, and former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker have also been mentioned.

A bigger task will be to heal rifts inside the Washington-based bank and dissipating anger among the agency's thousands of staffers, many of whom bitterly resented Wolfowitz.

The bank's board largely exonerated Wolfowitz and praised his work in Thursday's carefully negotiated statement announcing his departure.

A critical part of the deal was to avoid his immediate removal so the US could find a replacement. The bank's staff association blasted the arrangement, saying he should leave immediately.

Under an unwritten rule, the United States has named every World Bank president since the institution was founded in 1944 to help Europe and Asia rebuild after World War II. In return, a European has headed the International Monetary Fund -.

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