The Multilateralist

World Bank executive directors argued for strategy to aid Iran

Iran may be increasingly isolated, but some influential voices on the World Bank’s executive board believe the institution should at least have a strategy for how to aid its economic development. I’ve been told that at a recent meeting of the World Bank’s executive directors, the official who represents Iran made the case for developing ...

Iran may be increasingly isolated, but some influential voices on the World Bank’s executive board believe the institution should at least have a strategy for how to aid its economic development.

I’ve been told that at a recent meeting of the World Bank’s executive directors, the official who represents Iran made the case for developing a World Bank strategy paper for aid to the country. These papers — called country assistance strategies — assess a potential recipient’s development and identify ways in which the World Bank can help reduce poverty. The Bank last prepared a strategy paper for Iran almost eight years ago. There are a few small Bank projects underway in Iran, including a $150 million project for water and sewage in the north of the country and a project focused on sustainable livestock practices. The Bank’s private-sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, has two small projects ongoing in Iran worth less than $12 million. Another World Bank arm, the Multinational Investment Guarantee Agency, "provided guarantees to Japanese, Thai and Turkish investors for two projects in the manufacturing and oil, gas and chemical sectors in Iran." However, no new projects have been initiated since 2005.

The request at the Board meeting for a more comprehensive strategy prompted a stiff objection from the United States, but plenty of other directors — including, I am told, those representing the BRIC countries, argued that the request had merit. This support notwithstanding, the Bank’s leadership appears very unlikely to produce a new strategy paper for Iran. Bank management has argued that the network of international sanctions on Iran make it exceptionally difficult to arrange financing and monitor any new projects that would be initiated.

The fact that multiple directors were willing to voice support for the idea, however, may be another sign of growing BRIC strength on the Bank board and an increased willingness to challenge American preferences in an institution that the U.S. has historically dominated.   

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