Zoellick’s announcement will prompt a search by the Obama administration for a new World Bank president, traditionally chosen by the United States.
Speculation about the replacement is already well underway. Possible candidates include Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Obama economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers, now a professor at Harvard University, who worked for the bank in the early 1990s. Clinton has denied having an interest in the job, a position that aides said Tuesday had not changed. Summers could not be reached for comment.
Although the president is formally appointed by the bank’s member nations, a decades-old agreement — which also allows major European powers to choose the head of the IMF — gives the United States the role of naming the World Bank chief. That process came under challenge last year when European nations rallied behind then-French finance minister Christine Lagarde to take over the IMF, while developing countries argued for a more open selection process.
Similar arguments are likely to arise over Zoellick’s successor. The bank’s board is supposed to meet Thursday to decide on the procedure for selecting the next president.
But the Obama administration made clear it expected to name the next bank head, and officials said National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon and Chief of Staff Jack Lew would lead the search. “In the coming weeks, we plan to put forward a candidate with the experience and requisite qualities to take this institution forward,” Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said in a statement.
During his tenure, Zoellick moved the bank in new directions, supplementing its bread-and-butter development work with programs, for example, to create commodities-trading markets that allow farmers in developing nations to get more predictable prices for their crops and thus invest more in planting.
He sometimes was outspoken politically, too, criticizing the Obama administration for what he regarded as a timid approach to free trade. He pushed European leaders to resolve their credit crisis, warning of the ramifications it could have for poorer countries.
Before joining the World Bank, Zoellick had served in the George W. Bush administration as deputy secretary of state and U.S. trade representative. He had been in government service since the 1980s.