Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The president of World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, got a chance to defend himself yesterday. It was a chance to address charges that he broke the rules by arranging a raise for his girlfriend.

Wolfowitz hit back hard. He appeared before a bank committee and he said his critics had launched a smear campaign. Wolfowitz says he will not resign over, quote, "a plainly bogus charge of conflict of interest."

NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN: For weeks now, Paul Wolfowitz has heard that the alleged sweetheart deal that he arranged for his companion and colleague Shaha Riza had made a mockery of his international campaign against cronyism and corruption. He's already said he regretted his involvement in the negotiations over her pay and promotion, but in an appearance yesterday before the World Bank committee that's investigating him, Wolfowitz said it would be unjust and frankly hypocritical of the board to conclude that his actions were improper.

Wolfowitz was accompanied by two lawyers and came prepared with a detailed legal brief, insistent that he arranged the pay raise and promotion for Shaha Riza only at the instruction of the Ethics Committee of the bank board, that he followed bank rules at every step, and that he believed the Ethics Committee knew about the arrangement and had no problem with it.

He suggested that his critics inside the bank had aimed to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that he is an ineffective leader and must step down for that reason alone, even, he said, if the ethics charges are unwarranted. I for one, he said, will not give in to such tactics.

A large segment of the World Bank staff is demanding that Wolfowitz resign. Those who want him to go have taken to wearing blue ribbons as a sign of protest, and bank officials report that the ribbons are now seen everywhere in the bank buildings. Some bank staff say they have turned against Wolfowitz because of what they see as his arrogant attitude and his authoritarian management style. But Wolfowitz still has one very important backer, President Bush.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: My position is that he ought to stay. He ought to be given a fair hearing. And I appreciate the fact that he has advanced - he's helped the World Bank recognize that eradication of world poverty is an important priority for the bank.

GJELTEN: Bush was speaking at a press conference yesterday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government has hinted strongly that Wolfowitz should go. Speaking through an interpreter, Merkel stopped well short of endorsing Wolfowitz, referring instead to the board's investigation of his conduct.

Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL (Germany):(Through Translator) And my position is, and this is going to be relayed by a minister in the board - in the individual bodies of the World Bank and their respective commissions as well, that this ought to be a very transparent, very candid conversation...

GJELTEN: For all his defiance yesterday, Paul Wolfowitz did leave the door open to resigning once the allegations against him are dropped. Only then, he said, will it be truly possible to determine objectively whether I can be an effective leader of the World Bank.

But any deal could take several days to negotiate, and in the meantime, the standoff seems likely to continue. Wolfowitz shows no sign of giving in and sources say the bank executive board is in no hurry to force a vote on whether he should go.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: