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EU: In Brussels, Wolfowitz Smooths Path To World Bank Presidency

Paul Wolfowitz EU officials indicated today that the bloc is likely to back Paul Wolfowitz for the next World Bank presidency. The U.S. deputy defense secretary was in Brussels to meet top EU governors at the bank. Wolfowitz is widely seen as one of the main architects of the Iraq war and his nomination for the Bank post by U.S. president George W. Bush caused an initial uproar in some EU capitals. Wolfowitz told his EU hosts he is committed to relieving global poverty and supporting development across the world.

Brussels, 30 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- It seems virtually guaranteed World Bank governors will accept Wolfowitz as the head of the world's leading development body when they meet tomorrow in Washington.

After meeting Wolfowitz in Brussels, EU representatives were united -- if not overly enthusiastic -- in their approval.

Krisztina Nagy, a European Commission spokeswoman, told reporters EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn was satisfied with the account Wolfowitz had given of his views.

“[Commissioner Rehn] said he was satisfied with everything he heard from Mr. Wolfowitz regarding trade, the reduction of poverty and development,“ Nagy said.

News agencies cite a number of EU ministers saying they expect Wolfowitz will be confirmed.

Appearing with Wolfowitz today, Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg and head of the EU’s current presidency, said EU representatives had had the opportunity to ask all the questions they wanted.

Wolfowitz’s visit was organized at very short notice. EU governments saw the visit as essential to dispelling fears the U.S. deputy defense secretary would pursue the unilateralist goals associated with President George W. Bush -- and with Wolfowitz's own tenure in the Pentagon.

Since its inception, the World Bank has been headed by a U.S. citizen, while European nations nominate the head of the International Monetary Fund. Five years ago, however, the United States set a precedent, blocking Europe’s first choice for the IMF presidency. There were fears the EU could now follow suit.

Wolfowitz today took a conciliatory stance toward his EU hosts. He welcomed the day's dialogue as "articulated and well-informed," and said the United States shares the EU's goal of reducing global poverty and promoting development.

Wolfowitz also tried to explain his personal motivation in taking on the job.

“People who don't know me may not appreciate why I am eager to take on this challenge, so let me explain: I believe deeply in the mission of the World Bank. Helping people to lift themselves out of poverty is a noble mission,” Wolfowitz said.

Wolfowitz also pointed to the three years in the late 1980s that he spent as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia. He said Indonesia presented examples of what the World Bank can achieve in the field of development.

But Wolfowitz added the post allowed him to witness first-hand how corruption and weak institutions can hamper development and poverty-reduction efforts.

Wolfowitz indicated he believes U.S. foreign policy goals are served through promoting development.

“It is not just the material side of life that is improved when we promote economic development. Peace and freedom are also enhanced when people enjoy the benefits of prosperity and human dignity,” Wolfowitz said.

Wolfowitz promised to listen and consult with nongovernmental organizations working in the world’s poorest countries.

But he appeared unwilling to publicly commit himself to picking one of his World Bank deputies from an EU member state. This is a key EU demand. France is said to have presented at least two candidates for the post.

Wolfowitz called the EU a “very important” component of the World Bank, and noted its position as the Bank's single-largest donor. But he added the senior management of the organization must also reflect what he called the “full diversity of donors and recipients.”