(Adds Clinton quotes, China, Western diplomat)
PARIS May 26 The United States gave the
strongest public hint so far that it favours French Economy
Minister Christine Lagarde as the next head of the International
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a news
conference in Paris on Thursday that while Washington had not
yet taken an official stance, it "unofficially" welcomed highly
qualified female candidates to lead international agencies.
"As you know, the time frame for candidates to be put
forward has a few more weeks to run, so officially the United
States will be assessing and then eventually announcing its
"Unofficially, let me say we welcome women who are well
qualified and experienced to head major organisations such as
the IMF," she said, when asked whether Washington would support
Lagarde, 55, announced her candidacy on Wednesday to succeed
her compatriot, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned last week
after being charged with the attempted rape of a hotel maid in
New York. He denies the charges.
The only other declared candidate is Mexican central bank
chief Agustin Carstens. Major emerging nations are demanding
that the job should no longer automatically go to a European but
have not rallied behind Carstens or any other candidate.
China called on Thursday for "democratic consultation" over
who should lead the IMF, leaving room for wrangling over
Lagarde's candidacy, which the French government has said
Beijing has indicated it will support.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that senior
management of the global lender "should enhance representation
of the emerging market countries and reflect changes in the
A senior Western diplomat said emerging nations privately
accept that Lagarde will get the position, and Carstens' entry
into the race was meant more as a signal to the United States
and Europe that emerging markets will expect one of their own
candidates to lead the IMF after Lagarde.
The envoy said Western countries were not concerned about a
pending legal case in which Lagarde is accused of abusing her
authority to reach a generous arbitration settlement with a
former businessman, because French President Nicolas Sarkozy had
assured other governments the case would not get off the ground.
European Union diplomats say they expect a negotiation in
the coming weeks on a Western commitment to open up the top IMF
job in future to non-European nationalities.
In her first comments as a candidate, Lagarde said she aimed
to enhance the IMF's "representativity" and reach out to
emerging markets if chosen for a five-year term next month.
Aides said she planned to visit key emerging countries
including China and Brazil soon to garner support for her IMF
bid, but no dates have been set yet.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, writing by Paul Taylor, editing
by Mike Peacock)