updated 1/3/2005 4:55:54 PM ET 2005-01-03T21:55:54

The United States is beginning the search for a successor to World Bank President James Wolfensohn whose term expires on June 1, Treasury Department spokesman Rob Nichols said Monday.

Nichols said the United States was starting to talk to other countries that are shareholders in the 184-nation development bank. The process, he said, will be “open, transparent and collaborative.” He didn’t identify possible contenders and didn’t lay out a timetable for naming a successor.

“We’re looking for the best person for the job,” Nichols said.

Treasury Secretary John Snow talked by telephone to Wolfensohn on Monday, where the subject of the World Bank president’s upcoming departure was discussed, Nichols said. He didn’t provide details.

Wolfensohn, appearing on Sunday ABC’s “This Week,” said he anticipated bowing out in 2005 and not serving a third five-year term.

“I’ve had 10 years, and I think that’s probably enough. But if the need is there, I’ll do whatever the shareholders want,” he said. “My understanding and my belief is that probably during the course of this year I’ll give over to someone else.”

As bank president since June 1, 1995, he has emphasized reducing poverty in developing nations and making lending projects more effective. Previously, he headed the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and was a Wall Street investment banker for 20 years.

Snow praised Wolfensohn’s accomplishments at the bank, Nichols said.

The United States is the bank’s largest shareholder. The bank traditionally has had an American president. Its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, traditionally has been headed by a European.

Separately, the issue of debt relief for countries hit by deadly tsunami is expected to be discussed next week at a meeting of the Paris Club, a group of creditor nations, Nichols said. Germany, Italy and France have said they would press the for a moratorium on debt repayments by countries hit by the disaster.

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