The selection of candidates for World Bank chief took an unexpected turn this week, after the favorite, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, was nominated to be No.2 in the US State Department.
Zoellick, 51, was chosen by US President George W. Bush as deputy to Condoleezza Rice at the head of US diplomacy, though his name had been proffered as a potential successor to World Bank president James Wolfensohn, who announced at the start of the year he would retire this year after 10 years in the job.
Traditionally, the position of World Bank president goes to an American, and the Treasury Department succinctly noted that it had begun talks with World Bank shareholders over the choice of a successor to Wolfensohn.
While reticent about a name, a Treasury Department spokesman said simply that Washington was looking for the best candidate for the job.
The relationship between Wolfensohn, 71, and the Bush administration has often been strained.
Last spring, when the Bank's sister organization, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), chose a new director-general, certain emerging economies sought to challenge the 60-plus-year custom of putting an American at the helm of one institution while nominating a European to the other.
In the end, Spaniard Rodrigo Rato got the IMF job, with broad support from Latin American countries.
The fact that a European was selected to the IMF unchallenged by the US means that the tradition should also hold in this case, an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The list of possible US candidates is long and includes three women: Christine Todd Whitman, 58, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator; Carla Hills, 71, a trade representative from the government of former US president George Bush; and Anne Krueger, 68, the IMF's No.2.
Krueger, a former World Bank chief economist from 1982 to 1986, is familiar with its workings.
However, Hills' and Krueger's age could be against them with the World Bank's five-year mandate at stake.
Whitman, a moderate Republican, left the White House team in May 2003 after enduring tough opposition from ecologists following Bush's refusal to sign the Kyoto protocol on climate change.
Other names mooted are that of outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell, 67, who denies having an interest in the job, assistant Treasury Secretary for international affairs, John Taylor, 58, and US coordinator of the fight against AIDS, Randall Tobias, 62.
Meanwhile, European elements in Washington have warned there will be no hesitation in vetoing an unsuitable US candidate, much as Americans did in 2000 when they rejected German candidate Caio Koch-Weser, finally accepting another German, Horst Koehler.