Zoellick may prove Wolfowitz antidote as World Bank chief

May 30 | Updated: May 31 2007, 05:30am hrs
Robert Zoellick, tapped by President George W. Bush to take over as president of the World Bank, may prove to be the antidote to his ousted predecessor, Paul Wolfowitz.

Officials who've worked with Zoellick describe him as non-ideological and a consensus-builder who's willing to adapt his stance in order to cut a deal.

"Zoellick is a man who gets things done,'' said former Secretary of State James Baker, who brought him into the Reagan administration in 1985. "He will be able to rebuild and repair relationships to the extent that they have been frayed by the last two years.'' Bush will today nominate Zoellick, 53, to run the world's largest development agency, according to a senior administration official who declined to be identified.

Zoellick served as Bush's trade representative and deputy secretary of state before leaving last year for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. He will take over an organisation bruised by conflicts over the bank's role in Iraq and a campaign against corruption in developing nations. Before joining the bank, Wolfowitz was a leading advocate of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq when he was deputy defensc secretary.

Among Zoellick's first tasks will be to reinvigorate an effort to raise as much as $28 billion that World Bank officials say is needed to help the poorest countries in the coming three years. He'll also need to raise morale among the bank's 13,000 employees, many of whom cheered Wolfowitz's resignation.

Zoellick, who declined to comment on reports of his appointment, has a reputation as a tough and sometimes impatient boss. "He is very demanding of the people that work for him,'' said Charlene Barshefsky, who served as trade representative during the Clinton administration and is now a senior partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering, a Washington law firm. He can be a hard-nosed negotiator as well. In 2005, he got into a public row with European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson over subsidies, with each accusing the other of slamming the phone down during one conversation. When he visited

Sudan's Darfur region in November of the same year, he got into a chest-to-chest shouting match with a local official who tried to interrupt his tour of an abandoned village. The local backed down. "He's tough as nails,'' said Kenneth Rogoff, former chief economist at the IMF and a professor of economics at Harvard University.

People who know Zoellick say his confidence stems from meticulous preparation for every negotiation and his ability to think tactically to get things done. "I wouldn't say he is Mr. Smooth when it comes to personal relations, but I have always found him to be one of the few people who is a strategic thinker about trade and foreign policy issues,'' said William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council in Washington.

Zoellick went into meetings aiming to be more prepared than the others there, former aides say. In briefings with journalists, he didn't use notes prepared by his staff; he brought his own, usually a yellow notepad, lined with his handwritten script.