- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

From combined dispatches

BRUSSELS — European Union nations are slowly moving toward endorsing Paul Wolfowitz as the next World Bank president, Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm said yesterday.

At an EU finance ministers meeting, held on the sidelines of a European summit, Mr. Zalm said there were no “very negative attitudes” toward the U.S. deputy defense chief, who was an architect of the Iraq war.

“I think he is taken as a serious candidate by everyone,” Mr. Zalm said.

Italian Finance Minister Domenico Siniscalco said he has “always supported” Mr. Wolfowitz.

Russia’s top banker indicated yesterday he would not oppose the appointment of Mr. Wolfowitz to run the World Bank, Interfax news agency reported.

The nomination of Mr. Wolfowitz as the next World Bank president, to succeed James Wolfensohn, will not lead to the bank’s collapse, said Garegin Tosunian, the president of the Association of Russian Banks.

“I cannot assess Wolfowitz, but I do not think that this appointment will ruin the World Bank, as this is a political and administrative rather than financial post, and from this point of view, it’s better to appoint a clear-headed military man than a bank-office operationalist,” Mr. Tosunian said.

Many of the 25 EU governments were holding off on endorsing Mr. Wolfowitz until after he has met with Louis Michel, the EU development-affairs commissioner, and others at the European Union’s head office, Mr. Zalm said. No date has been set for that meeting.

Germany, Britain and Italy already have publicly backed Mr. Wolfowitz. President Bush nominated him last week to succeed Mr. Wolfensohn, who plans to retire at the end of May.

Austrian Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser suggested he is hesitant to fully back Mr. Wolfowitz, saying he wants to know more about the principles that Mr. Wolfowitz would support at the bank and who he would pick as deputies.

Mr. Grasser said he respects the U.S. tradition of picking the World Bank president.

“This interest has to be to be balanced toward other blocs in the world economy,” he said. “We shouldn’t give dramatic signals that EU and the U.S. are carving up the international financial institutions. The question that would be good to find out from Wolfowitz is, who his deputies will be.”

The World Bank board meets March 31. U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow has said he wants the decision ratified by the time the bank holds meetings in Washington April 16-17.

By tradition, the United States selects the nominee for World Bank president, and its choices have never been rejected. Europe always picks the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, although its first choice for that position was forced to withdraw in 2000 after President Clinton’s administration refused support.

European countries hold a combined 30 percent voting stake on the board — compared with the United States’ 17 percent — enough to override the 85 percent majority needed to approve a candidate.

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