The arrest of International Monetary Fund director — and once likely president of France — Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sexual assault charges has scrambled French politics and increased concerns about Europe’s debt crisis.

Closer to home, it’s led to most annoying schedule changes amongst the world economic cognoscenti who had signed up for various briefings he was supposed to give around town.

We had been looking forward, in these parlous world economic times, to his speech Thursday afternoon at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. But we got this notice Monday from the institute advising that the acting IMF director, John Lipsky, who has said he was retiring in August, “will replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as this year’s speaker” at the 10th annual Niarchos Lecture. “He will address ‘Global Recovery and Global Cooperation: The Challenges Ahead.’ ”

Well, maybe Strauss-Kahn can do a live-streaming intro from Rikers Island?

That cancellation was not particularly distressing, because we were going to dinner with DSK later this month at the European Institute.

But then we got an e-mail from the institute’s president, Joelle Attinger, who wrote: “We regret to inform you that the May 31st dinner with Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been cancelled. We apologize for any inconvenience that this unexpected change may cause.”

You’d expect Strauss-Kahn to be out on bail by then. Of course, good taste would dictate that he would have resigned long before that.

Meanwhile, the arrest may complicate things a bit for the administration. We had heard the White House had already planned — yes, this can happen — to replace Lipsky with David Lipton, managing director at Citigroup and former undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs, serving under Robert Rubin. (In addition to being an expert on these matters, Lipton could use Lipsky’s leftover business cards by changing just three letters.)

The head of the IMF, by long-standing tradition, can’t be an American — the head of the World Bank is an American — so the IMF executive board is likely to have to come up with someone soon to replace Strauss-Kahn. “Soon” is an exceptionally flexible term amongst international bureaucrats.

The administration may have to wait until the board sorts out the top job before moving to fill the deputyship.

Ripped from the headlines

Speaking of l’affaire Strauss-Kahn, it wasn’t as though the IMF wasn’t warned about his alleged reputation. The Daily Telegraph, on May 9, ran a story with this headline: “Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Sex Book Claims.”

And then there’s the book

This week’s prize for superb timing goes to New York Times reporter Elaine Sciolino, now writing in Paris on cultural matters. Her former Times colleague Melinda Henneberger wrote on Facebook about getting an advance copy of Sciolino’s “incredibly well-timed new book, ‘La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life,’ which just got a huge bump because there, on page 202, ‘Whenever there is a gap in the conversation at a French dinner party, all a guest has to do is mention the name of DSK. It always livens things up.’”

And if it livened things up then, just imagine what it does these days.

The book comes out June 7.

Speaking for State

Meanwhile, chatter at the State Department is about the likely move of career Foreign Service officer Victoria Nuland , former ambassador to NATO and now special envoy for conventional forces in Europe, to be the department’s spokeswoman.

The expected move was first reported Monday by our pal Laura Rozen at Yahoo News — though it’s been in the works for a couple of months. The possibility has raised a few eyebrows in town because Nuland, who’s married to political scientist and Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan , was principal national security adviser to Dick Cheney starting right after the invasion of Iraq, from July 2003 to July 2005. (Of course, we recall that Hillary Clinton was a backer of that war.)

On the other hand, during the Bill Clinton administration, Nuland was chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, a longtime Clinton pal.

Given Nuland’s foreign policy chops, one would assume she will have ready, direct access to Secretary of State Clinton, which of late has not always been the case with spokespersons. Another question is whether Nuland will be the traveling spokesperson when Clinton goes overseas. That role has often been taken by longtime Clinton aide and former Senate press secretary Philippe Reines , who has also been the one sitting in when Clinton is interviewed by reporters.

Mike Hammer, now acting assistant secretary for public affairs, is still expected to be nominated to take that job on a permanent basis.

Moving up at the BBG

Also on the communications front, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees all government broadcast operations — Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio and TV Marti, etc. — has tapped Diane Zeleny, a 15-year State Department employee and communications veteran, for a new position as BBG director of communications and external relations.

Zeleny, most recently communications director at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is to advise on strategy and coordinate and streamline the communications operations of the various BBG networks.

Gates the historian

Outgoing Defense Secretary Bob Gates, leaving town on an exceptionally high note, was smooth as usual on “60 Minutes” over the weekend. But the outtakes from the interview with Katie Couric, when Gates gave “word association” assessments of presidents he’d worked for, are even more interesting.

Nixon: “One of our strangest presidents . . . brilliant in foreign policy but a distorted personality.”

Ford: “Very underrated.”

Carter: “Could not establish priorities.”

Reagan: “A great president, a historic president.”

Bush I: Brought “the Cold War to a peaceful close.”

Bush II: “An easy decision-maker . . . a good listener.”

Obama: “Very analytical . . . takes his time . . . but he doesn’t shrink from the really tough decisions.”

For the full snippet, go to

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