MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Another item came up at the press conference today: the fate of World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. Here is what President Bush had to say.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I applaud his vision. I respect him a lot. And as I said, I regret that it has come to this right now.
BRAND: Britain, France and other countries have not been won over by members of the Bush administration who are quietly lobbying them on behalf of Paul Wolfowitz. And so without much international support, Wolfowitz is expected to resign soon as head of the World Bank. The executive board of the bank is back in deliberations today over his fate.
Here with an update on developments is NPR's Tom Gjelten. He's been following the story. And Tom, this story over Wolfowitz's involvement in a pay package for his girlfriend who - she also works in the World Bank - it just seems like the story will never end. What's the latest?
TOM GJELTEN: The latest, Madeleine, let's hope it does end soon, because I think the longer this goes on, the worse it is for everyone. One thing to keep in mind is that Paul Wolfowitz as the president of the bank serves at the pleasure of the executive board of the World Bank, and it's clear by now that a solid majority of that board is determined to see him resign. He was supposed to be in Slovenia today. He's cancelled that trip. He's already been disinvited from a meeting of G-7 development ministers in Germany next week.
So I think there's no question he'll have to leave. The key questions - and this is what the executive board is focused on today - is how soon he'll go and under what terms.
BRAND: Now, Wolfowitz has said all along that, sure, maybe he made a mistake, but he disclosed his relationship with his girlfriend. When he took the job, he proposed recusing himself from any personal decisions regarding her, and he said it was the ethics committee itself that told him to actually work out her compensation package. So to what extent is he right that the ethics committee is partly to blame for this?
GJELTEN: Well, I think that he has a good case, Madeleine. As you say, they instructed him to do this. And in fact, months later, when an anonymous staffer at the World Bank alerted the ethics committee to the size of the pay raise that he had negotiated for his girlfriend, they declined to act on it.
So they have a lot to answer for as well. I think, however, that what the board is saying at this point is that it's gotten beyond the facts of the scandal. It's now a matter of how Wolfowitz has responded to it, and in their view - in the view of the board - how he sometimes seems to be putting his own personal interests at this point ahead of the interest of the World Bank, and I think that is what has really outraged them.
BRAND: And so, assuming this is all resolved with Wolfowitz leaving, what kind of damage does the World Bank now have, and how will it fix it?
GJELTEN: I think that no matter how this is resolved, Madeleine, there is going to be damage done to the bank. You know, one of the things that Wolfowitz said on Tuesday night is that the way that they resolve this will determine how the World Bank is seen in the United States and in the world.
And I think that's true. I think if Wolfowitz leaves under a cloud and his supporters in the U.S. Congress, Republicans let's say, are angry about this, it could jeopardize U.S. support for the World Bank in the future.
On the other hand, if the Europeans are furious about the way the United States handled this, then I think European contributions to the World Bank in the future may be in jeopardy. So it's hard to see at this point how the bank can get through this in any way undamaged.
BRAND: And who could succeed - who's waiting in the wings to succeed Wolfowitz? Because usually it's the United States who names the president, right?
GJELTEN: Right, Madeleine, but that's really a loaded issue right now because it's taken on all these other geo-political implications about the role of the United States at the bank, the role of the United States in the world. The issue of who names the successor and the nationality of that successor will bring back to the fore all these really troubling high-stakes geo-political issues.
So, I think what we're likely to see, Madeleine, in the short run is an interim president while the larger questions around his successor get sorted out.
BRAND: NPR's Tom Gjelten. Thanks, Tom.
GJELTEN: Thank you, Madeleine.
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