August 16, 2022

Clinton Dismisses Rumors of World Bank Job, However Plausible They Sound

“I have had no discussions with anyone,” Mrs. Clinton said Friday to reporters traveling with her in Africa. “I have evidenced no interest to anyone. I do not have any interest and am not pursuing that position.”

What sets this rumor apart from previous ones, several people familiar with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund said, is that there is a plausible scenario for the candidacy of someone of Mrs. Clinton’s stature, having to do with the peculiar trans-Atlantic politics of these institutions.

The scenario, they said, goes like this: with Christine Lagarde, the finance minister of France, apparently on track to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the Obama administration is under pressure from lawmakers in Congress to ensure that the World Bank continues to be led by an American, in line with a longstanding arrangement that has been challenged by up-and-coming economic players like Brazil, India and China.

In 2009, the United States and Europe signaled their willingness to consider non-Western candidates to run both institutions. So for the administration to persuade China, Brazil and the other rising powers to accept another American atop the World Bank — on the heels of another European taking the top job at the International Monetary Fund — would require an indisputably heavyweight candidate.

Enter the secretary of state.

“Hillary Clinton would be widely regarded as an eminently qualified candidate for that job,” said Edwin M. Truman, a former official at the I.M.F. who is now at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “If it’s not a candidate as strong as Hillary Clinton, it would be that much more difficult.”

The White House also denied the report, carried by Reuters, about Mrs. Clinton, while the Treasury Department declined to discuss its deliberations. But officials there said the administration was determined to maintain American influence over the World Bank, both because it viewed the bank’s development work as important and because the United States is its largest financial contributor. The rumors about Mrs. Clinton may have been an effort by administration officials to reinforce the point.

Congressional support is critical, Mr. Truman said, because the World Bank is seeking additional capital — something lawmakers would have to approve. The administration, he said, worries that Congress might react to the United States’ giving up the presidency of the bank by declining to give it more money.

In some ways, the World Bank would be a perfect fit for Mrs. Clinton. Friends said she had expressed interest in working in the field of development after leaving the State Department. She has also made it clear that she does not plan to stay on as secretary of state if President Obama is reelected.

Former President Bill Clinton has voiced interest in running the World Bank; his name was mentioned before Paul D. Wolfowitz got the job in 2005, and two years later, when Mr. Wolfowitz was replaced by the current president, Robert B. Zoellick. Mr. Zoellick, whose term expires next year, is well regarded and the White House could opt to push him for another five-year term. But he is a Republican who has long been viewed as a potential Treasury secretary in a Republican administration.

None of this would have surfaced now, officials said, but for the complex drama set off by the resignation of Mr. Strauss-Kahn after he was charged last month with sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper in New York.

The French government moved swiftly to seek support for Ms. Lagarde to replace Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who before his arrest had been a likely Socialist candidate for president. And she won immediate support from other European countries. A Mexican central banker, Agustín Carstens, is also mounting a spirited bid for the managing director post at the I.M.F., but with the deadline for nominations looming, Ms. Lagarde has been viewed as having built a daunting lead.

The White House has remained noncommittal, with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner saying that Ms. Lagarde and Mr. Carstens are both “talented candidates.” But diplomats said the United States had signaled to France that it would not block Ms. Lagarde’s candidacy if she gathered support in the developing world. She won endorsements this week from several African countries.

As for the bank, Mrs. Clinton said, “It’s a very important institution, and obviously we want to see the World Bank well led.” But just in the case there was any lingering ambiguity, she added, “I am absolutely dedicated to my service as secretary of state.”

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Lusaka, Zambia, and Binyamin Appelbaum from Washington.

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