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Wolfowitz Apologizes For 'Mistake'

World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz addressed staffers until they began to chant for him to resign.
World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz addressed staffers until they began to chant for him to resign. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)

"Of course President Wolfowitz has our full confidence," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "His leadership is helping the bank accomplish its mission of raising living standards for poor people throughout the world. In dealing with this issue, he has taken full responsibility and is working with the executive board to resolve it."

But the Bush administration's point man on World Bank matters yesterday did not offer similar backing. "There is a mechanism in place, and I am going to allow that mechanism to work rather than inject myself into the middle of it," said Timothy D. Adams, Treasury undersecretary for international affairs.

One administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that other governments have remained publicly silent. "They're looking to see if it gets any worse and if we're going to really fight hard for him or let him fight for himself," the official said. But "his relationship with the staff is really bad, and I don't know if it's recoverable."

Wolfowitz bemoaned that the controversy threatens to overshadow the official agenda of the bank's annual spring meeting opening here today -- including ratification of a global anti-corruption strategy and funding to reduce poverty in Africa.

"In the larger scheme of things," he said, "we have much more important things to focus on." But as revelations and rumors swept the bank's corridors and the board remained huddled behind closed doors, there was little talk at the bank of anything else.

Bank staffers called to the atrium by the staff association -- which represents most of the World Bank's 7,000 Washington employees -- said that Wolfowitz appeared shaken when he stood before them. "There was not a warm and fuzzy feeling in the crowd," reported one staff member, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution.

Wolfowitz was passing near the gathering after his news conference as the association's president, Alison Cave, was reading a statement demanding that he "act honorably and resign."

Cave invited Wolfowitz to the microphone. He repeated his apology and said he would abide by the board's decision, and he left as staff members began hissing and chanting. Hundreds of comments criticizing Wolfowitz, posted on the organization's internal Web site, were released by the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower organization.

Cave asked that the board release all documents related to the issue, the same step that Wolfowitz requested last night. Among the documents, Cave said, is a 2005 memo from Wolfowitz to the vice president for human resources detailing the terms of Riza's outside assignment, including promotion upon her return to the bank from an upper-middle position to a level equal to bank vice president, "depending on the length of her external service." The agreement said the promotion would be subject to a performance review by a "panel whose membership would be mutually agreed" by human resources officials and Riza.

Staff writers Krissah Williams and Steven Mufson contributed to this report.

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