Chancellor champions Rato at IMF

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The Independent Online

Rodrigo Rato, the man expected to be the new head of the International Monetary Fund, will fly into Washington this weekend to meet African leaders under a deal brokered by Gordon Brown that could see the Spaniard crowned as the fund's managing director as soon as next week.

The Chancellor has been talking with Mr Rato, Spain's former finance minister, since he emerged as the preferred candidate of European Union countries, which traditionally have chosen the head of the world's leading financial watchdog.

The IMF's executive board will meet on Tuesday after the close of this weekend's annual spring meetings to interview Mr Rato and decide on the next steps in the process to choose the successor to Horst Kohler, who stood down last month to stand as president of Germany.

One senior source said: "There's an outside chance that it could be a relatively simple decision." Mr Rato won support from EU countries after Mr Brown was commissioned to survey opinion of the IMF membership over the European shortlist of Mr Rato and Jean Lemierre, the Frenchman who heads the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

As well as the EU, Mr Rato has won support from Latin American countries and tacit approval from the US, the IMF's largest shareholder. However, UK officials said Mr Brown's consultations with other countries in Africa and Asia had shown that "there is this feeling we have been going through an unsatisfactory process". Following this, Britain opened talks with 20 African nations, who will now meet Mr Rato on the fringes of the IMF meeting on Sunday.

A senior UK official said: "It is crucial the European candidate is not only seen to be putting development issues and African issues towards the top of his priorities, but is entering into that dialogue with the Africans now to say, 'yes, I will be the person that will deliver'.... This will undoubtedly be the most transparent, least acrimonious [IMF appointment] to date."

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