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World Bank: Bush To Announce Zoellick As New Chief

By Jeffrey Donovan

May 30, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to announce today his nominee to head the World Bank. According to reports, his choice is Robert Zoellick, a former trade representative and top diplomat.

Within hours of the news on May 29, the bank's board issued a statement listing the "essential" qualities of its next chief. It did not mention Zoellick, but said the next president should have a "track record of leadership," a "commitment to development" and "multilateral cooperation," and "political objectivity and independence."

That description, arguably, fits Zoellick.

Economic, Diplomatic Posts

The 53-year-old, among other high-level appointments, was U.S. trade representative for four years until February 2005. He then served as deputy to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice until June 2006, when he joined the Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs.

In April last year, Zoellick's combination of economic and diplomatic expertise was on display during a summit in Beijing. Besides negotiating economic issues, Washington's No. 2 diplomat at the time said he was also concerned with China's human rights record.

"Our relationship clearly looks beyond economics -- in particular, to human rights, and the nature of China's system," Zoellick said. "This is a point that President Bush emphasized extensively in his conversations with President Hu [Jintao] last year. He's had a particular focus on our interest in terms of opening up possibilities for greater religious freedom."

Reports say Bush is set to announce Zoellick as his nominee to replace Paul Wolfowitz later today. The World Bank's board must still approve the decision, but by tradition it is always an American while the head of the International Monetary Fund is a European.

Uniting, Focusing The Bank

Wolfowitz resigned, effective June 30, after a bank panel found he broke bank ethics rules when he secured a pay raise and promotion for his girlfriend, a bank employee.

The episode threw the bank's staff into a revolt and strained relations with the Europeans, who already didn't like Wolfowitz's past role as one of the Pentagon's Iraq war architects.

Zoellick will need to regain trust and mend relations in the bank and with its member countries around the world, says analyst Sheila Page of London's Overseas Development Institute.

"His first challenge of course is to get the confidence of the governments who are on the board of the bank and the staff members, so that he can really bring the bank back into working order," she says.

The bank's new leader will also have to persuade countries to contribute nearly $30 billion over the next few years to fund a centerpiece bank program that provides interest-free loans to the world's poorest countries.

But Page says Zoellick will also have to decide what he wants the bank to focus on. "In particular, he will need to look at areas like, 'Should it be doing more in the poorest countries, or should it be concentrating on new areas like climate change or things like corruption, which Wolfowitz was working on?'" she says.

But with his extensive experience, Zoellick could build on strong relations he developed as a diplomat and trade representative.

He was involved in peace talks in Sudan and as U.S. trade chief, he played a key role in talks to bring China into the World Trade Organization. He also forged free-trade deals between the United States and other countries, including Singapore, Chile, Australia, and Morocco.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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