DEAUVILLE, France G8 leaders meeting in France for their annual summit this week kept their discussions on the IMF succession strictly in the corridors and avoided any joint endorsement of France's Christine Lagarde as a candidate.
Lagarde, France's finance minister, is the clear frontrunner to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as IMF managing director, after he quit to fight an attempted rape charge, and is backed by several European countries and the European Union.
China and other emerging market powers are digging in their heels against Western dominance of the Fund, however.
The only other declared candidate ahead of a June 10 deadline is Mexican central bank chief Agustin Carstens.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who kept the issue off his G8 summit agenda, could not resist saying he saw Lagarde as superbly qualified for the job, but after chats in the wings with President Barack Obama he would not divulge Washington's position.
He told a news conference after the meeting in the northern French seaside town of Deauville he believed Obama had decided who to back for the job but was waiting to make it public.
"Naturally we talked about it, but ... I am not Obama's spokesman and it's not for me to announce his decision," Sarkozy said. He said he would be surprised if Obama disagreed with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks in favor of having well-qualified women at the head of world bodies like the IMF.
British Prime Minister David Cameron repeated his backing for Lagarde as an IMF candidate and told reporters that many delegates at the G8 meeting agreed she was outstanding.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who unlike the leaders of Britain, Ireland and Italy has not formally endorsed Lagarde, said on Thursday the G8's deliberate strategy of not giving a joint signal on the IMF job should help Europe's candidacy.
Lagarde, a former high-flying corporate lawyer who speaks fluent English and has proved a canny negotiator in G20 finance meetings, lacks Strauss-Kahn's economic prowess but as a widely respected and charismatic woman, she could repair the damage done to the IMF and France's image from Strauss-Kahn's arrest on charges he tried to rape a New York hotel maid.
Sarkozy described Lagarde as "a woman of very great qualities," regarded by many as well suited to run the world's primary rescue lender. He also said the IMF head should remain a European.
He made clear, however, that there was no official G8 position, however, saying: "It would be particularly clumsy to give the idea that the G8 countries agreed on a candidate."
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin weighed in on Friday, saying in Russia that Lagarde's candidacy was "very serious" and Kremlin chief Dmitry Medvedev added that he believed a consensus had almost been reached on the post.
Lagarde plans a tour in the days ahead to more reticent countries like Brazil and China.
(Additional reporting by Marie Maitre; Editing by Jon Boyle)