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Obama Announces Pick For World Bank Post


The White House has made its choice for who should lead the World Bank. Jim Yong Kim is currently the president of Dartmouth University. He's a physician and a global health expert - and something of a surprise to people who've been watching this process.

Here is President Obama at the White House this morning.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I should also mention that after emigrating to this country from Korea at age 5, Jim went on to become the president of his high school class, the quarterback of the football team, the point guard of the basketball team. I just found out he is a 5 handicap in golf. I'm a little resentful about that last item. But he does it all.

GREENE: Well, joining us to talk about the nomination of Dr. Kim is NPR's John Ydstie. And John, what can you tell us about President Obama's choice?

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Well, he's a good athlete, obviously.

GREENE: Sounds that way.

YDSTIE: And as the president said, he's a physician, a global health expert. Before serving as president at Dartmouth, he worked at the World Health Organization. He was director of the department that runs all the HIV and AIDS programs. He was educated at Harvard, and holds both medical and anthropology degrees.

GREENE: Well, OK, so this is President Obama's choice. There have also been a number of people, I believe, nominated by other countries. What are the odds that Mr. Obama's choice will actually be the winner?

YDSTIE: Well, the odds are very high. There has never been a president of the World Bank that wasn't an American, and the U.S. has the most votes in the selection process. However, as you know, David, emerging markets - like China and India and South Korea - have made it very clear they would like a more open process in choosing leaders for the World Bank and for the International Monetary Fund, which has always been led by a European.

The emerging economies think their growing economic clout and their contributions - monetary contributions to the organizations mean the candidates from their countries ought to be able to lead the organizations. The U.S. and President Obama have agreed that's a good idea. But obviously, the president has decided now is not the right time.

GREENE: Well, why isn't it the right time now for the emerging markets to get more of a voice?

YDSTIE: I think it's very much because of the presidential election. President Obama doesn't want to be criticized by Republicans for giving up control of an organization as big as the World Bank. But I think it's clear the president is also attempting, in his choice, to mute criticism from the emerging markets by nominating a candidate who was born in Korea; born in South Korea, even though he was raised in the U.S., in Iowa.

Of course, it's always going to be difficult for a U.S. president to give up this post at any time. And remember, the same issue came up when the IMF's top job opened up after Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned in disgrace. And then, the emerging market nations argued one of their candidates should replace him. But another French official, Christine Legarde, was chosen. And the argument there was well, it isn't the right time because Europe was in financial crisis and needed a European at the helm.

GREENE: You say the U.S. usually gets its choice in. What will be the process now going forward, and is it possible there'll be a battle, that some of these emerging market nations could stand in the way?

YDSTIE: Well, the officials of the World Bank will meet and make this choice, and it's possible that there could be an argument. But I think the White House has played this pretty well. There was talk of nominating someone like Larry Summers, the former U.S. Treasury secretary. That probably would not have gone over as well as appointing a Korean-born immigrant who has a great success story.

One other candidate who had been nominated by a number of small, poor countries, Jeffrey Sach - a well-known American economist who specializes in development issues - said this morning that he had withdrawn his name from consideration. The Nigerian finance minister remains in the competition, as far as we know.

And this all should get wrapped up by June, when Bob Zoellick steps down as the World Bank president.

GREENE: All right, by this summer. Well, that's economics correspondent John Ydstie. Thanks, John.

YDSTIE: You're welcome, David.

GREENE: And this is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.