Paul Wolfowitz, US deputy secretary of defence, has emerged as a leading candidate to replace James Wolfensohn as the president of the World Bank.
Mr Wolfowitz is one of a small number of people being considered for the US nomination, administration insiders said.
The nomination of Mr Wolfowitz, one of the chief architects of the Iraq war and a former US ambassador to Indonesia, would likely be highly controversial, and could raise new questions about the process by which the World Bank chief is selected. One administration official said his nomination “would have enormous repercussions within the development community”.
Others on the US shortlist include Randall Tobias, former head of Eli Lilly and the administration's co-ordinator on Aids.
Leadership of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund is decided by all the shareholders in the institutions. But the US and Europe in effect divide up the top jobs, with an American heading the bank and a European running the fund.
The effort to pick the US candidate has been led by the White House National Security Council and the Council of Economic Advisers. The Treasury is leading consultations with other World Bank shareholders. Asked about Mr Wolfowitz's possible nomination, Rob Nichols, Treasury spokesman, said: “We don't speculate on personnel appointments before they are made.”
Other names on the US list are John Taylor, the top Treasury official for international affairs, and Peter McPherson, president of Michigan State University. But they are not seen by the administration as leading candidates.
European officials point to the dispute over Caio Koch-Weser a candidate for the IMF post favoured by Europe but blocked by the US as setting a precedent that could see them veto the US nominee. Developing countries have also demanded a greater say in the selection.