WASHINGTON — Paul Wolfowitz, the new president of the World Bank, is a man of strong views, some of which he is willing to share.
In a breakfast meeting with reporters Tuesday, Mr. Wolfowitz said that "at the top of the list" of things he wants to accomplish is to enable the bank "to do as much as it possibly can to support development in Africa." He returned Sunday afternoon from a six-day visit to Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, and South Africa, his first trip as president.
Wolfowitz said other key priorities at the bank include supporting equal rights for women to help foster economic growth. If women do not have equal rights, "the development of that country is going to be stunted," he said. He also wants to harmonize the way the bank works with other aid agencies to reduce the administrative burden on countries that receive assistance.
The bank's mission is to fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in developing countries.
Before coming to the World Bank, Wolfowitz was deputy secretary of Defense and a key architect of the US war with Iraq. He declined multiple requests by reporters to draw links between his experiences at the top of two massive bureaucracies with international reach.
"It is not that I don't have views; it is not that I don't think these things should be debated. But I think as president of the World Bank I have an obligation to keep the focus where the people I met with [in Africa] want it," Wolfowitz said.
The one specific comment he offered about Iraq concerned the internal British government documents known as the "Downing Street memos." One such document, a March 18, 2002, memo from the United Kingdom's ambassador in Washington, Christopher Meyer, to a senior British foreign-policy adviser, focused on a Sunday lunch that Ambassador Meyer had with Wolfowitz. Meyer wrote that he discussed the "need to wrongfoot Saddam" on the issue of weapons inspectors.
Wolfowitz responded, "I haven't read the memo. I never used the word wrong-foot in my life. So I don't know what it says. And I tell you, no one I met in Africa, no African at least, wanted to talk about Iraq. They wanted to talk about what the world can do to improve Africa."
Muslims in the African countries he visited did not want to talk about US efforts to establish a democracy in Iraq, Wolfowitz said. "I don't believe it came up a single time.... The face I saw everywhere was a tolerant face, and I saw harmony between religious communities."
Helping poor nations in Africa is both morally right and in the self-interest of rich nations, Wolfowitz argued. "If you keep pushing Africa so far down the list that it falls off the table, so to speak, it is not just morally wrong. These people do deserve help, but it is likely to come back someday and hit you in the future.... It is just not healthy when some large part of the world is left behind."
Wolfowitz was modest about his potential impact on the massive bank. "Any president of the World Bank who thinks he runs the bank is probably delusionary," he said. "What you are trying to do is figure out a positive direction that everybody is going to agree on going and help to define that effective consensus."
Mission: To fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in developing countries.
What it does: Provides loans, grants, policy advice, and technical assistance.
Two branches: The International Development Association (IDA) provides interest-free credits and grants to the world's 81 poorest countries, which are home to 2.5 billion people, the great majority of whose residents live on less than $2 a day. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) makes loans to higher income developing countries.
Spending: In 2004, the bank provided $20.1 billion for 245 projects in developing countries.
Employees: 9,300 at Washington, D.C., headquarters and in more than 100 country offices.