WASHINGTON — Passing over better-known candidates, President Barack Obama on Friday nominated global health expert and Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim to lead the World Bank. It was a surprise pick aimed in part at fending off challenges from developing nations eager to end the U.S. monopoly of the top job at the international institution.
Obama's nomination all but guarantees that Kim, a 52-year-old physician and pioneer in treating HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis in the developing world, will take over at the helm of the World Bank. Though he was born in South Korea, he will extend a tradition of American presidents dating back to the organization's founding in 1944.
The 187-nation World Bank focuses on fighting poverty and promoting development. It is a leading source of development loans for countries seeking financing to build dams, roads and other infrastructure projects.
Several developing nations had sought to break the U.S. leadership streak when current president Robert Zoellick announced he would step down at the end of June. That put Obama in the delicate position of balancing his desire to see emerging economies step forward on the world stage and the pressures of an election year. His support for a non-U.S. candidate could have provoked fresh criticism from Republicans, who frequently question whether Obama believes in the notion of "American exceptionalism."
As Obama announced Kim's nomination from the White House on Friday morning, he tried to make the case that an American with a unique background and broad international experience would be a committed representative of the developing world's interests.
"Jim has truly global experience. He has worked from Asia to Africa to the Americas, from capitals to small villages," Obama said. "His personal story exemplifies the great diversity to our country."
The World Bank's 25-member executive board will officially select a new president next month. But given that the United States as the world's largest economy has the largest percentage of the votes, Kim is expected to prevail.
He was widely praised by officials in the United States and overseas. Former President Bill Clinton, who advocated for Kim during Obama's selection process, said in a statement that the nominee was "an inspired and outstanding choice." Rwandan President Paul Kagame said Kim was "a true friend of Africa" and "a leader who knows what it takes to address poverty."
Still, Kim's nomination was expected to face some resistance from those who believe it's time for the developing world to take the reins at an organization focused on addressing its needs.
Officials at Oxfam, the international aid agency, urged the World Bank to welcome a genuine debate about its leadership.