WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday nominated Dartmouth College president and global health expert Jim Yong Kim to lead the World Bank, an unconventional pick that could help to quell criticism in the developing world of the U.S. stranglehold on the international organization’s top post.
Obama said Kim, a Korean-born physician and pioneer in the treatment of HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis, has the breadth of experience on development issues needed to carry out the financial institution’s anti-poverty mission.
“It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency,” Obama said Friday morning during a Rose Garden ceremony.
Obama was joined by Kim, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who first recommended that Obama consider Kim for the World Bank post.
The 187-nation World Bank focuses on fighting poverty and promoting development. It is a leading source of development loans for countries seeking financing to build dams, roads and other infrastructure projects.
Since its founding in 1944, the World Bank has always been headed by an American. But developing countries, who have long sought to gain more power in the organization, planned an unprecedented challenge to Obama’s pick this year and considered nominating three other candidates.
However, Kim is still expected to succeed outgoing president Robert Zoellick, who announced in February that he was stepping down.
The actual selection will be made next month by the World Bank’s 25-member executive board. The United States, as the world’s largest economy, has the largest percentage of the votes.
Kim is expected to travel around the world on a listening tour to rally support for his nomination ahead of the board’s vote.
Senior administration officials said Obama took a strong personal interest in filling the World Bank vacancy after current president Zoellick announced in February he was stepping down. Obama and his advisers considered more than a dozen candidates, including well-known figures in the administration. But in the end, officials said, Obama pushed for a nominee with broad development experience and was particularly drawn to Kim’s innovative work fighting the spread of AIDS and tuberculosis.
“Jim has truly global experience. He has worked from Asia to Africa to the Americas, from capitals to small villages. His personal story exemplifies the great diversity to our country,” Obama said Friday.
Obama was to travel to South Korea for a nuclear summit later Friday.
Administration officials said former President Bill Clinton weighed in with support for Kim during Obama’s deliberations. In a statement Friday, the former president applauded Kim’s nomination.
“Jim Kim is an inspired and outstanding choice to lead the World Bank based on his years of commitment and leadership to development and particularly health care and AIDS treatment across the world,” he said.
U.S. and European officials have voiced support for the developing world’s efforts to expand their power at the World Bank, as well as its sister lending organization, the International Monetary Fund. But the status quo remains, with France’s Christine Lagarde holding the top spot at the IMF and Kim’s candidacy for World Bank president all but certain to prevail.
Developing nations are expected to nominate Jose Antonio Ocampo, a Columbia University professor who had been finance minister for Colombia, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister, who has the backing of the three African countries on the World Bank board.
Economist Jeffrey Sachs, the director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, openly campaigned for the World Bank post, saying the position should be filled by an expert in development issues. But Sachs dropped his bid Friday after Obama announced his nominee, writing on Twitter: “Jim Kim is a superb nominee for WB. I support him 100%.”
Obama administration officials said the pick was already being well-received in the developing world. After learning of Kim’s nomination, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said the physician was “a true friend of Africa” and “a leader who knows what it takes to address poverty.”
The World Bank opening put Obama in the awkward position of choosing between his desire to be seen as a supporter of rising economic powers and the pressures of a political year in which support for a non-U.S. candidate could have opened him to criticism.
Obama picked Kim over several more well-known candidates, including Susan Rice, current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.; and Lawrence Summers, Obama’s former director of the National Economic Council.
Others mentioned for the World Bank post included Indra Nooyi, the head of soft drink company PepsiCo, and Laura D’Andrea Tyson, who served in top economic jobs in the Clinton administration.
Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to the U.S. at age 5. He is a graduate of Brown University and Harvard University. He co-founded the global health organization Partners in Health and served as director of the World Health Organization’s department of HIV/AIDS.
He began his tenure as president of Dartmouth in 2009, becoming the first Asian-American to lead an Ivy League institution.
• AP economics writer Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.
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