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International Journalists Discuss the Appointment of Paul Wolfowitz as World Bank’s New President

On March 31, the World Bank’s Executive Board confirmed the nomination of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz as the Bank’s new president. President Bush’s choice had been controversial in international circles because his nominee was so closely associated with a largely unpopular war in Iraq.

When President Bush nominated Mr. Wolfowitz, he pointed to the Deputy Defense Secretary’s prior experience as U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia. But, speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club program, the publisher of Sinar Harapan newspaper in Jakarta said reaction in Indonesia to the World Bank appointment was “mixed.” Publisher Aristedes Katoppo explained that, while people are happy that Mr. Wolfowitz “at least knows about Third World countries and especially about Indonesia,” they are also concerned that the World Bank may be too focused on “supporting American interests in the Middle East.”

After a meeting with Mr. Wolfowitz in Brussels this week, European Union officials said they had no objections to his nomination to head the World Bank. Philip Jelie, U.S. bureau chief for Le Figaro daily newspaper, described the initial response in Europe as “not that positive.” But he said that after President Bush’s trip to Europe, many countries were reluctant to open up a new dispute with Washington. Furthermore, they wanted to be in a better position to have their own candidates placed in key international institutions. And finally, Mr. Jelie said, some European officials have acknowledged privately that Mr. Wolfowitz is a “brilliant man” and perhaps – as German Chancellor Schroeder suggested – he might be a “pleasant surprise.”

China was the only country not “surprised.” China receives more money from the World Bank than any other nation, and Beijing’s official reaction was that it could work with whoever leads the world’s chief international lending institution. But Chinese reporter Mr. Lei said that many people in China perceive Paul Wolfowitz as a controversial figure. And some people wonder why President Bush would nominate someone like him with a strong military background to head the World Bank.

Mona Eltahawy, a New York-based Egyptian journalist who writes a column for the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, called reaction in the Arab world to the prospect of Paul Wolfowitz as leader of the World Bank a “mixture of anger and resignation.” She said Arabs see him as the chief architect of the invasion and war in Iraq and they feel that they have no say in the Bank’s appointment. Ms. Eltahawy said that Mr. Wolfowitz needs to bolster his credibility, which was damaged when his assumptions about the Iraq war were proven erroneous. For example, he predicted that Iraqis would greet U.S. troops with open arms, which they didn’t, and also asserted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which was proven false. But Ms. Eltahawy pointed out that Arabs appear willing to acknowledge that Wolfowitz also stands for positive trends such as democracy and reform in the Arab world. And she suggested that he might work very hard to make his appointment at the World Bank successful because he has so much to prove.

Paul Wolfowitz has acknowledged he is a controversial figure, but stresses his commitment to the Bank’s mission and his intention to work as an international civil servant responsible to the entire membership of the global organization.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.