- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

President Bush yesterday nominated Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of the Iraq war, to be president of the World Bank.

The nomination was immediately endorsed by the current heads of the bank and the International Monetary Fund, but some European officials and experts connected with the bank questioned whether he is fit for the top economic and development post.

Although the United States by tradition has filled the post, which becomes vacant in June, Mr. Bush acknowledged the selection of the deputy defense secretary faces resistance on the bank’s board, where the United States carries 17 percent of the vote among 23 members.

Mr. Bush called Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other world leaders to lobby personally for the nominee, best known as one of Mr. Bush’s leading “neoconservative” defense advisers.

“I think Paul will be a strong president of the World Bank,” Mr. Bush said at a White House press conference. “He helped manage a large organization. The World Bank’s a large organization; the Pentagon’s a large organization. … He’s a skilled diplomat, worked at the State Department in high positions. He was ambassador to Indonesia.”

Answering criticism that Mr. Wolfowitz lacks credentials in economics, finance or peacetime development as previous World Bank chiefs had, the president insisted, “Paul is committed to development. He’s a compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job.”

Mr. Wolfowitz might try to return the World Bank to its traditional role of financing large infrastructure projects such as dams and power plants and cut back on social projects like climate change that became a focus under the current president, James Wolfensohn, analysts said.

Despite having a different philosophy, Mr. Wolfensohn, who is stepping down when his term expires, praised Mr. Wolfowitz as “a person of high intellect, integrity and broad experience.” Mr. Bush said he hopes that endorsement will sway the votes of board members.

Mr. Wolfowitz sought to portray himself as a conciliator ready to take on the “noble mission” of poverty eradication in a meeting with reporters.

“I understand that in this job I’ll be an international civil servant reporting to a multinational board, responsible for hearing all their views,” he said.

But the selection was unwelcome in some international circles, with some critics comparing it to the recent nomination of another leading administration hawk, John R. Bolton, to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Wolfowitz is a controversial figure in Europe and elsewhere around the world because of his role in the Iraq war.

A European source who did not want to be identified said Mr. Wolfowitz was rejected after his name was circulated informally among board directors several weeks ago, so yesterday’s White House announcement indicates “the U.S. couldn’t care less what the rest of the world thinks.”

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier suggested that other candidates be considered.

“It’s a proposal” to be taken “in view of other candidates,” he said.

Developing nations might object as well.

Mexican President Vincente Fox called it “a good proposal,” but added, “There may be others. There are people of great value.”

But Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary, hailed Mr. Wolfowitz as “very distinguished internationally.”

Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia University professor and a poverty adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said the administration should come up with an alternative candidate.

“This is such an amazing nomination. It will raise serious concerns around the world,” he said.

It might not provoke an overt fight on the board, Mr. Sachs added, but approval is not assured. “The United States does not own this position.”

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