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Ex-diplomat in line to lead World Bank

WASHINGTON -- Robert Zoellick, a nimble negotiator who has crisscrossed the globe as President Bush's trade chief and as the country's number two diplomat, is the White House's choice to be the next World Bank president.

Bush will announce the decision today, according to a senior administration official.

Zoellick, 53, a seasoned veteran of politics both inside the Beltway and on the world stage, has a knack for mastering intricate subject matter and translating it into policies. He is known for pulling facts and figures off the top of his head.

He would succeed Paul Wolfowitz, who is stepping down June 30 after a bank panel found that he broke bank rules when he arranged a hefty compensation package in 2005 for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, a bank employee.

The controversy led to calls from Europeans, the bank's staff, aid groups, and others for Wolfowitz to resign from the poverty-fighting institution. Bush's selection of Zoellick must be approved by the bank's 24-member board.

The White House expects Zoellick to gain the board's acceptance. Zoellick announced last June that he was leaving his post as deputy secretary of state to join a Wall Street firm and work to develop investment markets around the world.

At the time, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Zoellick had served as her "alter ego" in the department. He was widely believed to be have been interested in getting a promotion and becoming treasury secretary. But that job went to Goldman Sachs chief Henry Paulson.

If approved as World Bank chief, Zoellick will need to regain trust, rebuild credibility, and mend frayed relations inside the institution as well as with its member countries.

All of those things are critical for the bank's new leader, who will have to persuade countries to contribute close to $30 billion over the next few years to fund a centerpiece bank program that provides interest-free loans to the poorest countries.

Zoellick has built strong contacts around the globe. He is now an executive at Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs. As Bush's deputy secretary of state he focused on a range of diplomatic duties from the Sudan peace talks to strategic discussions with China.

Before that, as US trade representative, Zoellick played a key role in negotiations to bring China into the World Trade Organization. He forged free trade deals between the United States and other countries . And, he had helped to launch global trade talks in Doha, Qatar.