World Bank head: Use 'fiscal cliff' to get US finances on track

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He went on to describe the push to avoid the combination of expiring tax rates and automatic spending cuts, characterized as a "fiscal cliff," at the end of the year by Congress as a great chance to reorient the nation's fiscal trajectory.

"My No. 1 interest would be to use that opportunity to make some serious headway," he said.

Zoellick characterized the need for the U.S. to get on a sustainable fiscal course as a matter of international interest. After meeting with an Australian finance minister several weeks ago, he said the official told him that "the United States is one budget deal away from restoring its global preeminence."

However, he also noted that some Asian nations are maintaining that America "isn't going to be able to get its act together, and you better listen to what we have to say."

Zoellick, who was nominated for the World Bank by President George W. Bush, said he had no plans to work with Mitt Romney in his presidential campaign.

He also indicated that he did not think the World Bank had a role to play in steering Greece through its political and fiscal crises, if for no other reason than to keep the organization from being swallowed in the political strife.

"We have to decide how we're going to allocate limited resources, and frankly, these are the political decisions you make," he said. "Given the political tensions, it might not be as productive for Greece as it might be harmful for the bank ... this is the sort of role I think others might need to play."

Greece's ability to agree to bailout terms set by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have been thrown into question following recent parliamentary elections, which removed from power the parties that made the deal. Unable to establish a controlling coalition, a new, highly watched parliamentary election is set for Sunday.

Zoellick will be replaced at the World Bank by Jim Yong Kim. The former Dartmouth President and developmental health expert was nominated by President Obama in March.