WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States fought for World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz to keep his job on Tuesday, saying he had made mistakes but should not be fired despite a bank finding that he broke rules in promoting his companion.
In what appeared to be a coordinated move to stave off European pressure for his dismissal, the administration said the former U.S. defense secretary and architect of the Iraq war had not committed a "firing offense."
"We've made clear that we support Paul Wolfowitz," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters.
"Furthermore, he has said -- and we agree -- that certainly a lot of mistakes were made in the personnel process. But it's not a firing offense," he added.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice echoed the White House's comments, which came a day after a World Bank committee said he had violated ethics rules in the promotion and pay rise for his companion Shaha Riza, a Middle East expert.
"It seems to me that what happened there, as he said, he made some mistakes but it doesn't seem to be the kind of thing that you would want to see the dismissal of a World Bank president over," Rice told reporters in Moscow.
Wolfowitz, whose neoconservative background and high-profile role in planning the Iraq war made him unpopular with many bank member countries, will make a last-ditch effort to hold on to his job when he appears before the bank's 24-nation board later on Tuesday.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Board officials said it was too early to say whether the board would fire Wolfowitz or would be swayed by behind-door U.S. diplomatic efforts to keep him at his post.
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who in April told Wolfowitz to step down, urged a quick resolution to the controversy that has paralyzed the institution and prompted turmoil among its staff.
"All of us development ministers want the integrity and the credibility of the bank to be maintained and reinstated," she told a news conference in Brussels.
The panel found that Wolfowitz had broken bank rules on conflict of interest by seeking a different resolution to Riza's job status than would have applied to other staff and had "cast himself in opposition to the established rules of the institution."
Senior European board officials told Reuters the panel's findings showed an arrogance by Wolfowitz and his aides toward the bank's normal operating procedures in the 2005 promotion.
The officials said the board is unlikely to make a final decision before Wednesday as it weighs the panel's findings. The United States is urging the board to consider the issues separately -- Wolfowitz's handling of the promotion and whether he still has credibility to lead the bank.
Another senior board official said Wolfowitz still had a chance of rescuing his job, depending on whether he could present a clear plan for rebuilding his credibility.
"I will only be convinced that he should stay on if he presents us with a genuine plan that he has the ability to raise funds for the bank, rebuild his relationship with staff and ensure the bank is effective," the official said.
Wolfowitz has called the panel's findings "unbalanced and flawed" and argued that it omitted statements and documents that support his position.
He has acknowledged there was perhaps some confusion and miscommunication between him and a bank ethics committee which advised him to transfer Riza to a job outside the World Bank to avoid conflict of interest issues.
The panel found that Wolfowitz believed the blame lay with others and failed to take responsibility for his actions.
(Additional reporting Caren Bohan in Washington, Arshad Mohammed in Moscow and Ingrid Melander in Brussels)