Chiefs of World Bank and International Monetary Fund to Miss United Nations Forum

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 24 -- The chiefs of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have declined to participate in a major U.N. conference next week on the financing of development assistance for poor countries, upsetting an effort to secure high-level attendance at a meeting aimed at goading the beleaguered financial giants into stepping up aid.

World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick and IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn confirmed Monday that they will not lead their agencies' delegation at a four-day conference in Doha, Qatar, beginning Saturday. But they will send senior advisers and remain committed to the goals of the conference, which will be attended by all of the 192 U.N. members, said officials from the two financial institutions.

Some top U.N. officials were visibly infuriated by what they viewed as a snub of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. One official accused Zoellick of trying to ensure that the major decisions on the financial crisis would be made by the less unwieldy Group of 20 nations, which met in Washington on Nov. 15 to try to coordinate international response to the meltdown. "It's fair to say that the secretary general was very disappointed and doesn't understand completely" why they will not be attending, the official said.

Ban had envisioned the Doha meeting as a forum that would allow a broader group of countries, including some of the poorest, to have a say in the way the economic powerhouses respond to the crisis. He hoped the leaders of the main financial institutions would help him drive home the message that donor countries must not reduce development assistance, officials said.

Donor countries acknowledge that "there is a moral obligation not to cut back because this crisis, after all, was not made in the poorest countries in the world," said Kemal Dervis, executive director of the U.N. Development Program. "It was due to some failures of markets and of regulations in the richer parts of the world."

The Doha meeting is a follow-up to the 2002 International Conference on Financing for Development, in which more than 50 world leaders, including President Bush, gathered in Monterrey, Mexico, to galvanize international support for aid to poor countries. But the Doha review conference comes as the world is facing its worst economic crisis in a generation.

Dervis said that there will be a deep recession in 2009 and that every industrialized nation will see its gross domestic product shrink by 0.5 percent to 1 percent. "It's clear we're heading toward a very difficult 2009," he said, referring to the economy. "This kind of volatility has never been seen before."

Oscar de Rojas, executive secretary of the conference, said the crisis has had a chilling effect on negotiations leading to the summit. He said delegates negotiating a 96-page outcome document in the basement of U.N. headquarters this week remain deadlocked on several issues, including language calling on states to increase their commitments to aid or accelerating spending on prior commitments. He said negotiations probably will resume in Doha.

Rojas said Monday that Zoellick provided no formal explanation for why he will not attend the conference. Senior U.N. officials said he had informed Ban that the gathering conflicted with Thanksgiving plans.

One U.N. official said Zoellick has been pressing world leaders to restrict deliberations on the financial crisis to the G-20 countries.

In a letter to G-20 members, Zoellick proposed they set up a steering group of finance ministers, drawn from top industrialized and developed nations that control most of the world's GDP and energy production, to manage the global response to the crisis. "While bringing the rising economic powers to the table is clearly necessary, I suggest considering something new, not just an expansion of the old," Zoellick wrote.

Geetanjali Chopra, a World Bank spokeswoman, said Zoellick decided he would send two top bank officials, chief economist Justin Yifu Lin of China and Marwan Muasher of Jordan, to Doha as part of a policy to increase representation by officials from the developing world.

Strauss-Kahn, the IMF chief, had committed several months ago to attend the conference but decided to pull out sometime in the past two weeks. An IMF official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Strauss-Kahn was overwhelmed with work implementing the policy initiatives agreed to by the G-20 this month.

The IMF will send an eight-member delegation to the meeting, led by Deputy Managing Director Murilo Portugal, spokesman Niels H. Buenemann said.

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