WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush wants an American to run the World Bank, the White House said, dismissing speculation that Bush might drop the tradition of having a U.S. citizen lead the poverty-fighting institution.
U.S. officials, consulting with other countries, are looking for candidates to succeed Paul Wolfowitz and hope to soon send some recommendations to Bush, the White House said Monday. "The president expects to put forth an American," White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said.
Wolfowitz said last week he will step down June 30, his leadership undermined after he broke bank rules in his handling of a generous compensation package for his girlfriend, bank employee Shaha Riza, in 2005.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is leading the effort to find a replacement.
"We expect that he'll have some recommendations for the president," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
"He's consulting with other major shareholders at the bank and other interested groups that are interested in the leadership of the bank and how the bank will do its business going forward," Fratto added. "So, he's starting that process."
That suggests a more consultative approach to finding a new head of the bank. Bush's selection of Wolfowitz in 2005 stunned many overseas, especially Europeans who were upset that the president would tap his No. 2 official at the Pentagon and a key architect of the Iraq war to run the bank.
The bank's senior management on Monday said the Wolfowitz episode of the past weeks has been "an extremely difficult and painful time" and called on the everyone at the institution to "begin the necessary rebuilding phase." The goal is to make the bank stronger and more effective, the senior managers said.
The senior managers plan to meet twice a week until Wolfowitz's June 30 departure to take care of bank business, said bank spokesman Marwan Muasher.
Wolfowitz, in a letter to the bank's board on Friday, said he would leave the day-to-day operations and other policies and personnel matters to other bank officials in his remaining time at the bank.
By tradition, the World Bank has been run by an American, and the U.S., the bank's biggest financial contributor, wants to keep that practice intact. But it's not a rule, and the United States could pick someone who is not an American to lead the institution.
Outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been mentioned as a possibility. So have Ashraf Ghani, former Afghan finance minister, who also once worked at the World Bank; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian finance minister and former bank official; and South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel.
Other names mentioned for the post include: former Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who was Bush's former trade chief; Robert Kimmitt, No. 2 at the Treasury Department; Stanley Fischer, who once worked at the International Monetary Fund and is now with the Bank of Israel; former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; former Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa; and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.
Paulson's name also has been floated.
Bush's selection must be approved by the World Bank's board. An announcement, however, was not imminent, meaning it would not come within the next several days, Fratto said.
Some aid groups and other critics say the decades-old practice of the United States selecting the World Bank chief and Europeans picking the head of the International Monetary Fund should be scrapped.
Bush talked to Wolfowitz by telephone on Friday — one day after he and the bank's board announced his resignation, a White House official said. The president told Wolfowitz that he regretted the situation and that he appreciated Wolfowitz's anti-poverty work in Africa and his anti-corruption crusade, the official said.