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Wolfensohn's Chance at 3rd Term Unclear

By Paul Blustein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2004; Page E01

World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn would like to make one thing clear as he approaches the end of his second five-year term: "I can say categorically, I am not campaigning" for a third stint as head of the agency, he declared.

But that hardly means Wolfensohn does not crave an extension of his tenure at the bank's helm. He has discussed the matter often in meetings, according to bank staffers, who describe their boss as alternately gloomy and hopeful on the subject. Some days, he appears resigned to not getting a third term, so he muses about his legacy and banters with aides about how sorry they'll be when he is replaced by someone less congenial. Other days, he wonders aloud how the decisions he's making might affect his chances.

James D. Wolfensohn has served two terms as president of the World Bank. (Wolfram Steinberg -- AP)

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Such comments are mostly in jest, the 70-year-old Wolfensohn said. "I've made all these statements, and anyone who takes them seriously is out of their minds," he said in an interview. "I've been absolutely equal in saying either, 'You need to worry that Mr. X will take over,' or I joke about how 'I will be here for another 20 years and I'll outlive all of you.' "

Wolfensohn's prospects for another term loom as a major corridor topic at the annual meeting this weekend of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. For the past decade, Wolfensohn has led the bank with a high-voltage style that admirers credit with dramatically improving the bank's aid to poor countries, and critics deride as chaotic showboating. But this week's gathering may be the last at which Wolfensohn will preside.

Although the bank is owned by 184 member nations, the U.S. government traditionally chooses its president, and many experts both inside and outside the institution accord Wolfensohn little chance of winning reappointment if President Bush is reelected. In the past, administration policymakers have been sharply critical of Wolfensohn's penchant for projects and policies they regard as wasteful.

U.S. Treasury spokesman Tony Fratto declined to comment.

Wolfensohn's chances for reappointment are widely deemed to be higher if Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) defeats Bush, but that will depend on whether the Democratic presidential nominee would want to select his own person.

At stake is the leadership of an institution that lends about $20 billion annually to developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe for things like roads, schools and banking system reforms. The agency is in the midst of critical debates over expanding debt relief for the world's poorest countries, and is struggling to retain its premier role in overseeing world development policy.

Wolfensohn is clearly loath to give up the job.

"I have a simple proposition: I will seek to make up my mind in December, when I know whether there's an option" to stay at the bank, Wolfensohn said, suggesting that he might leave before his term expires in June if he sees no chance of being reappointed.

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