Robert Zoellick has dealt with the Cold War, the killing in Darfur, China's rise as an economic colossus. His next challenge: to restore confidence at the badly shaken World Bank.
''We need to put yesterday's discord behind us and to focus on the future together,'' Zoellick declared after President George W. Bush chose him yesterday to run the poverty-fighting institution and heal wounds left behind by outgoing president Paul Wolfowitz. ''I believe that the World Bank's best days are still to come,'' said Zoellick, now a vice chairman at Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs. If approved by the World Bank's 24-member board, Zoellick, 53, will bring years of experience in the foreign and economic policy arenas under three Republican presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan. World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy praised his ''ability as a strategist, as one who can broker compromise and as one who has profound interests in the concerns of developing countries.'' As the EU's trade chief, Lamy went head-to-head with Zoellick when he was US trade representative over steel, aid to plane makers Boeing Co. and Airbus and hormone-treated beef. ''We often disagreed, but that was part of our business,'' said Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa, the Brazilian ambassador who led his country's successful WTO challenge of the US cotton subsidy programme. ''I can say he's superbly qualified for the World Bank job.'' The selection of Zoellick appeared far less controversial than when Bush chose Wolfowitz, then the Pentagon's No. 2 official. His role in the Iraq war upset Europeans and others. Wolfowitz had a stormy two-year tenure at the bank, ending with his resignation, effective June 30. He was essentially forced to leave after a special bank panel found he broke bank rules when he arranged a hefty compensation package in 2005 for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, a bank employee. The controversy caused a staff revolt and strained U.S. relations with Europeans. Zoellick will need to regain trust, rebuild credibility and mend frayed relations inside the institution as well as with its member countries worldwide. He also will need to persuade countries to contribute nearly US$30 billion over the next few years to fund a centerpiece bank programme that provides interest-free loans to the world's poorest countries. He told a small group of reporters Wednesday, ''This institution has been through a traumatic period. There is a lot of anxiety, some frustration and anger that's been built up.'' Zoellick said he planned to meet soon with the bank's contributors, borrowers and others to listen to their perspectives on how the institution can best fulfill its purpose. Zoellick also anticipates working closely with the bank's board and staff to develop a consensus for the future direction of the bank, which has been coping with many financial and economic changes since its creation in 1945. ''On the one hand, one has to calm the waters but one also has to start to navigate a course for the future,'' Zoellick said. In choosing Zoellick, Bush picked a veteran of politics both in Washington and on the international stage. He is known for pulling facts and figures off the top of his head. He also has a reputation for being a demanding boss. ''Bob Zoellick brings a wealth of experience and energy to this task,'' Bush said. ''Over the past three decades, he's held important posts in government, business and higher education. ... In short, it would probably be easier to list all the jobs Bob hasn't had,'' he joked. Zoellick announced last June he was leaving his post as deputy secretary of state to go to Goldman Sachs and work to develop investment markets around the world. He leads the investment bank's board of international advisers, a 24-member group of former government officials who help develop overseas strategies. (AP)