Wolfowitz confident of winning over World Bank nomination critics

PAUL Wolfowitz yesterday rejected criticism of his nomination as head of the World Bank, claiming his image as an architect of the Iraq war was an incomplete portrait and that he was confident he would win over his critics.

The first choice of President George Bush to head the organisation said that, if he was confirmed in the post, "I am certainly not going to impose the US agenda on the bank".

Such words are meant to comfort critics in Europe and elsewhere who fear he will change bank policies to reflect Bush’s foreign and social policies.

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The US deputy defence secretary described his critics as "people who don’t know me" and said when they "get to know me they will realise fairly quickly that I’m about a lot more than military issues, about a lot more than just the Iraq war and that a good deal that has been written about me is an inaccurate caricature".

Although his candidacy is contentious because of his part in the Iraq war, Wolfowitz’s approval by the bank’s board, which operates by consensus, is a foregone conclusion. The US has the largest voting share on the 24-member board, which represents the 184 member states, and traditionally nominates the bank president.

As part of an intensive lobbying effort to defuse opposition and prepare himself for the new role, on Friday Wolfowitz met Asian, Saudi and French bank directors in his first meetings with board members.

He still faces interviews with officials from African and other European countries less enthusiastic about his candidacy. A persuasive communicator, he has called finance ministers and development officials around the world to convince them of his qualifications and assure them of his cooperation.

Wolfowitz pledged to work closely with non-governmental groups active in development and poverty reduction.

He also said relations be-tween the World Bank and its sister organisation, the International Monetary Fund, were a "critical issue". The two organisations are often criticised for overlapping in their work in developing countries.

Wolfowitz said that while there was no single answer to the challenge of terrorism, working to reduce poverty could diminish the terrorist threat.

He described the relationship between terrorism and poverty as complicated, because some leading militants, including Osama bin Laden, were wealthy, while the people they recruited often lived in miserable conditions.

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Some theorists argue that reducing poverty will remove a rationale that propels some people into extremist, anti-Western acts.

"I don’t think there is a single answer to the challenge of terrorism," Wolfowitz said, adding that trying to combat terrorism was not the reason to work on poverty reduction, which has "worthy goals, noble goals in themselves".

But, he added, in the war against terrorism, "I think poverty reduction will help".

A former US ambassador to Indonesia, Wolfowitz said he would work to use the bank’s economic development tools to strengthen democracy there and elsewhere.

"I do believe that reducing poverty contributes enormously to political development," he said.

He said he believed he could convince his critics he cared deeply about development.

Although there is no set process to select the president, experts said this was the first time in recent World Bank history that shareholders had asked to interview a nominee.

A bank spokesman said: "The executive directors have agreed to conduct informal meetings over the coming days with the United States nominee as part of the consultative process.

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"Thereafter, the executive directors will meet in a formal session to select the president, at which time an official announcement of the outcome will be made."

By tradition the United States has always chosen the head of the World Bank, while the IMF is led by a European.

In Europe, non-profit groups put pressure on governments to reject Wolfowitz’s nomination, launching online petitions. Organisers said the petition had received 1,255 signatories from 68 countries within 30 hours, and called on European governments "to take action to reject the current nominee and press for other candidates".

Wolfowitz worked intensely with Bush before the president’s 2000 election, coaching him on foreign affairs, and from 1989 to 1993 headed a 700-strong policy team at the Pentagon under then-defence secretary Dick Cheney, who is now vice-president.