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Wolfowitz Confirmed as Next President of World Bank

  • Serena Parker

The World Bank's executive board Thursday endorsed Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy U.S. defense secretary, as head of the international lending institution. The bank's new president has faced strong opposition from certain groups, especially those upset by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, of which Mr. Wolfowitz was a strong advocate.

The World Bank's executive board says it has approved President Bush's nomination of Paul Wolfowitz for president of the Bank. In a statement issued Thursday, the board said the decision was unanimous.

According to bank spokesman David Theis, the executive board made its decision after discussing a variety of issues with Mr. Wolfowitz and that he had received strong support from all 24 directors.

"Mr. Wolfowitz was confirmed unanimously today by the board as the next Bank president," he said. "And I really think the fact that it was unanimous shows that he's got really strong support and respect among the bank's shareholders."

Mr. Wolfowitz has held a number of high-ranking posts in U.S. government and academia. Most recently he served as deputy U.S. defense secretary, where he was one of the principal architects of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. This role earned him the ire of many around the world who opposed the war.

The new World Bank president also has gained fame as a fervent supporter of President Bush's vision of spreading democracy and freedom around the world. Many non-governmental organizations engaged in development activities worry that Mr. Wolfowitz will condition Bank loans on political reform. The World Bank leads global efforts to reduce poverty worldwide and promote economic development by providing roughly $20 billion a year in loans.

Mr. Wolfowitz acknowledged the controversy surrounding him on his recent trip to Europe, where he met with European Union officials to shore up their support for his nomination.

"I understand that I am, to put it mildly, a controversial figure, but I hope that, as people get to know me better, they will understand that I really do believe deeply in the mission of the Bank," he said.

One of the first major projects Mr. Wolfowitz will oversee as president of the World Bank, is a controversial large dam in Laos. Work is already under way on the dam, which will flood 450-square kilometers of land and force 6,000 people from their homes. Water from the dam's reservoir will generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity, most of which will be sold to neighboring Thailand.

The Bank's executive board is still discussing whether to guarantee one-point-two billion dollars in loans for the project.

Mr. Wolfowitz, who is sixty-one years old, will take the helm of the World Bank on June 1, replacing James Wolfensohn, who served as Bank president for the past 10 years.

In a statement issued to the press Thursday, Mr. Wolfowitz thanked the board for its support and said he was "humbled" to have been entrusted with the leadership of the international lending institution. He pledged to work with the Bank staff, shareholders and supporters to further the Bank's goal of poverty reduction.