Last updated: May 30, 2007 4:07 pm

Bush picks Zoellick to be World Bank chief

President George W. Bush on Wednesday nominated Robert Zoellick, the former US deputy secretary of state, to be the next president of the World Bank.

If confirmed by the bank’s board, Mr Zoellick will replace Paul Wolfowitz, who agreed to resign as bank chief on June 30 following a two-month long crisis over his handling of a secondment package for his partner, a bank official.

The next bank president will face a stiff set of challenges, including the need to heal deep divisions within the bank while setting out a strategic vision of its future role in a world of private capital flows and large-scale philanthropic foundations.

Hank Paulson, the US treas­ury secretary, said he rec­ommended Mr Zoellick to the White House following consultations with the bank’s other shareholder governments. Mr Paulson told the Financial Times: “Bob Zoellick is someone who has a passion for development. He has trust, respect and support from all the regions of the world.”

Mr Paulson said Mr Zoellick would be able to build international consensus and get results. “He has got great energy and enthusiasm – he gets things done.”

Mr Zoellick, 53, a former US trade representative who is a senior official at Goldman Sachs, is a respected internationalist with extensive contacts in Europe, China, Latin America and Africa. He played a prominent role in the peaceful reunification of Germany and led efforts to revive the Doha trade talks round.

US officials hope that by proposing a nominee of Mr Zoellick’s standing and international reputation they will defuse calls for a fundamental change in the way the bank president is selected.

The bank’s board issued a statement late on Tuesday that opened the door to a rival nomination.

A formal contest would be an unprecedented challenge to the White House’s traditional right of appointing the bank president.

The statement noted that ”nominations may be made by any” member of the bank’s 24-country board in addition to the expected US nominee.

The board also issued a ”profile of key qualities for nominees to guide the selection process” that included ”experience managing large, international organizations” and ”political objectivity and independence”.

Peter Costello, the Australian treasurer, said on Monday that he wanted the next head of the Washington-based organisation to be chosen in an “open, transparent process’’ based on merit and accessible to candidates from any country, not just the US. Brazil and South Africa have also called for an open, competitive search.

More than 500 development experts have signed a letter calling for an open competition for the leadership of both the World Bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, traditionally run by a European. Mr Bush insisted, however, that a US citizen be nominated, as in the past.

Mr Paulson said he did not come under serious pressure to open up the search process during talks with finance and development ministers.

“Even people who said that in theory they favour an open global search said, given the turmoil at the bank, ‘Please find someone who will have global support and can get appointed quickly so we can get the bank focused on its mission again’,” he said

A senior World Bank manager said there would be mixed feelings about Mr Zoellick’s nomination, with respect for his diplomatic skills offset by concern about his hard-driving management style. The manager said Mr Zoellick was “highly regarded” but seen as a “bit abrasive” with his staff.

“I think there is scepticism about Zoellick’s management skills,” he said.

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