(Recasts; adds comments by Geithner, Zoellick, U.S. lawmakers)
By Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON Feb 15 World Bank President
Robert Zoellick said on Wednesday he will step down in June and
Washington pledged to put a replacement candidate forward within
weeks for a job that has always gone to an American.
The Obama administration said it would open the process to
competition, marking the first time it has shown willingness to
loosen its grip on the world's top development lender.
Zoellick took the reins at the Bank in 2007 after a staff
revolt pushed out Paul Wolfowitz, and he moved quickly to return
the institution's focus to alleviating poverty.
Developing countries have for years pressed for a greater
voice in leading global financial institutions and are likely to
stress the importance of a competitive process, but the United
States is still widely expected to retain its hold on the job.
"It is very important that we continue to have strong,
effective leadership of this important institution, and in the
coming weeks, we plan to put forward a candidate with experience
and requisite qualities to take this institution forward," U.S.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a statement.
While Geithner called for an "open and expeditious process,"
analysts say Washington can ill afford to give up the post
without risking the U.S. Congress cutting funding for the Bank.
UNDECIDED ON FUTURE
In an interview with Reuters, Zoellick said his decision to
leave on June 30 at the end of his five-year term was his own
and was not due to pressure from the Obama administration.
The former U.S. chief trade negotiator and deputy secretary
of state dismissed speculation he would join a Republican
presidential campaign as "not true," saying only that he would
decide what to do next once he leaves the World Bank.
"It really was my own decision," Zoellick said. "My personal
sense is it's time to move on and I think once you feel that way
you shouldn't stay."
Zoellick, who discussed the selection process with the board
in a two-hour meeting on Wednesday, said the first step was for
the board to call for nominations. "An open process is
important," he said.
Speculation has been rife over who might take the job when
Zoellick departs. Possible U.S. candidates include Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton and former White House economic adviser
Lawrence Summers, but the State Department said Clinton would
not be taking the job. "She has said this is not happening,"
spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Emerging market and developing countries have campaigned
hard in recent years to break Europe's grip on the top position
at the International Monetary Fund and the United States' hold
on the presidency of the World Bank.
Officials from large emerging economies like Brazil said on
Wednesday the selection process for Zoellick's successor should
be based on qualifications and not nationality. However, they
acknowledged that given U.S. congressional pressure the job will
probably remain in the hands of an American.
Last year, emerging market economies made an aggressive push
to fill the IMF top job in a bitter contest won by France's
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers said the World Bank job should
stay in U.S. hands.
"I think it ought to be (an American) given the balance
between that and the IMF and the interests that we have right
now," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John
Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the committee's top
Republican, echoed that sentiment: "Ideally I would like to see
an American replace him ... That would be my preference."
Nancy Birdsall, who heads the Center for Global Development
in Washington, said that while the United States was committed
to an open process on paper, domestic politics necessitated a
"The election year timing puts the White House in an
especially unenviable position. There is a risk that the World
Bank could become a highly partisan, U.S. hot-button issue, as
the UN has too often been," she wrote in a recent blog.
STEADY AT THE HELM
When Zoellick took the job in July 2007, he turned the
attention of the Bank to a brewing food and energy price crisis
that was stoking social unrest in the poorest parts of the
As the bank looked for ways to help, the global financial
crisis of 2008 threatened to undermine more than a decade of
strong growth in emerging and developing countries.
Under Zoellick, World Bank lending increased sharply to $44
billion in fiscal 2010 from $13.5 billion in 2008, reflecting
the increased development needs of fast-rising countries in
Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
Zoellick also won approval for an $86.2 billion increase in
the Bank's general resources. It was the first increase in more
than 20 years. He championed more voting power for emerging
economies and convinced China, Brazil and others to contribute
Despite budget strains in the developed world, Zoellick
lobbied for and secured more than $90 billion in pledges to
replenish a separate World Bank fund for the poorest countries.
In an effort to modernize the World Bank, he has given a
greater voice to emerging economies. He has also championed the
need for better governance in regions such as the Middle East,
where street protests toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and
(Additional reporting by Glenn Somerville, Susan Cornwell and
Laura MacInnis; editing by Kenneth Barry)