Obama Stops Short of Endorsing Lagarde for the IMF

The White House is sensitive to perceptions of G8 members cutting a deal in Deauvill

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Stretching across a range of continents, Christine Lagarde has begun her campaign for managing director of the IMF in earnest. In the U.S., French president Nicolas Sarkozy is applying pressure on President Obama for his approval of the French finance minister. According to The Wall Street Journal's Carol Lee, who is on White House pool duty today, Obama did not offer his support when Sarkozy brought up the topic at their G8 meeting in Deauville, France, today. “It did come up in the meeting and we know what France's position is," an unnamed senior administration official told Lee, adding, "We support the IMF process that they announced last weekend, which has a deadline of I think June 30th or so, and are confident that it will produce a good candidate."

The Wall Street Journal's Geoffrey Smith says the president will likely "come under intense lobbying pressure from the four European members of the G8 (and the E.U. Commission and Council Presidents, who are also both in Deauville for the summit) to throw his weight behind Lagarde, too." But any sense that a back-room deal is happening will infuriate emerging economies who'd like the process to play out openly. "The five largest emerging countries–including G8 member Russia–have already said that the MD’s job shouldn’t go to a European this time, but they have so far failed to agree on a single candidate," reports the Journal.

In a sign that Lagarde is taking the concerns of emerging economies seriously, her first visit will be to India, reports The Guardian. She'll join France's defense minister in New Delhi. Responding to complaints from BRIC leaders that  a European has led the IMF since its founding in 1947, Lagarde told the Financial Times that indeed, emerging economies deserve a larger voice in the institution. “I would want to remedy the situation,” she pledged. “We need appropriate representation of high-level staff based on merit from various nationalities and academic backgrounds.” At the same time, she told the BBC Friday that a sound understanding of Europe was needed for the position, however "nationality, the origin, is something that doesn't really matter at the end of the day."

In South Korea, Lagarde won an important endorsement from that country's finance minister, Yoon Jeung-hyun, who told the Financial Times that "she is a very strong candidate and has the qualities needed to be a good managing directer" in an interview on Friday. "Yoon Jeung-hyun’s enthusiasm for another potential European IMF managing director strikes a contrast with Brazil, Russia, India and China, which have condemned the 'obsolete unwritten convention' that a European traditionally takes the helm," reports the Financial Times. "South Korea’s sentiments on the management of the IMF are of highly symbolic importance because Seoul has been among the most vitriolic critics of US and European dominance there. Seoul’s resentment dates from the Asian markets crisis of 1997-1998, when the IMF prescribed remedies that Koreans viewed as unnecessarily heavy-handed."

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