- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

Embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz yesterday announced that he will resign at the end of June, saying it was time for the bank to continue under new leadership.

President Bush accepted the decision “reluctantly,” the White House said.

Mr. Wolfowitz, who has been caught up in controversy over his role in directing a pay raise and promotion for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, said he was pleased that the World Bank Group’s executive directors had “accepted my assurance that I acted ethically and in good faith in what I believed were the best interests of the institution, including protecting the rights of a valued staff member.”

Mr. Wolfowitz said he had concluded “that it is in the best interests of those whom this institution serves for that mission to be carried forward under new leadership” and that he would resign effective June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto called Mr. Wolfowitz “a good man who is passionate about the plight of poor people in the world.”

“We would have preferred that he stay at the bank, but the president reluctantly accepts his decision,” Mr. Fratto said.

“The president will have a candidate to announce soon, allowing for an orderly transition that will have the World Bank refocused on its mission,” he said.

The bank’s executive directors said they weighed the report of a special bank panel and Mr. Wolfowitz’s own submissions during their consideration of an exit package for Mr. Wolfowitz.

Their statement did not mention any financial arrangements related to Mr. Wolfowitz’s departure, nor did it speak to Ms. Riza’s future.

Mr. Wolfowitz, they said, “assured us that he acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution, and we accept that.”

Nevertheless, they said, “it is clear from this material that a number of mistakes were made by a number of individuals in handling the matter under consideration, and that the bank’s systems did not prove robust to the strain under which they were placed.”

They said the bank would start the nomination process for a new president immediately.

Mr. Wolfowitz made his decision as White House support for him appeared to crumble.

Mr. Bush, speaking yesterday at a White House press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, did not repeat statements that Mr. Wolfowitz, whom he named for the World Bank post in 2005, should stay in the job.

“I applaud his vision, I respect him a lot, and I regret it’s come to this,” Mr. Bush said.

European countries have led the drive for the former U.S. deputy defense secretary’s departure from the 185-country bank for more than a month, and White House support waned as the controversy deepened.

A fresh call came yesterday in Bled, Slovenia, where an annual World Bank conference on development economics opened. Mr. Wolfowitz, who had planned to deliver the keynote address last night, canceled his appearance.

World Bank Vice President Francois Bourguignon assured conferees that despite the controversy, the institution “remains firm in its commitment to eliminate poverty around the world.”

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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