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Israel's Fischer biding his time on IMF bid: source

Fischer, the Governor of the Bank of Israel, attends a news conference in Jerusalem
Fischer, the Governor of the Bank of Israel, attends a news conference in Jerusalem

By Steven Scheer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer will test the waters before deciding whether to become a candidate to head the International Monetary Fund, a source familiar with the situation said on Sunday.

"He will be talking to decision-makers throughout the world the next two weeks and then make a decision," the source told Reuters. "If there will be more and more voices and more and more support from different countries, he would consider it."

The deadline for submitting official bids for the post is June 10.

Zambian-born Fischer, 67, is a former deputy managing director of the IMF. He has been widely credited with helping Israel's economy weather the global financial crisis by starting to lower Israeli interest rates sharply in 2008. He has since raised rates 10 times to contain inflation and prevent an overheating economy set to grow another 4.5 percent in 2011.

Fischer has declined to say whether he has been approached about the job vacated by Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned after his arrest on May 14 on charges of attempting to rape a New York hotel maid. Strauss-Kahn denies the charges.

"It's one of the best jobs in the international system but I have a terrific job at the moment," Fischer said in an interview with Reuters Insider TV last Wednesday, referring to his post as head of Israel's central bank.

The source said that Fischer was "keeping his options open" and it was too early to tell whether he would submit his candidacy.

"There are two weeks to go and anything can happen in those two weeks," the source said.

OPEN RACE

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who officially joined the race for the top job in global finance last week, is the favorite, with backing from Europe. The only other declared candidate is Mexican Central Bank Governor Agustin Carstens.

A May 19 Reuters poll showed that 21 of some 60 economists believed Fischer was "best suited" to run the IMF compared with 10 for Lagarde.

The United States, with 17 percent of the voting, still has not publicly backed a candidate although U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last Thursday said she "unofficially" welcomed highly qualified women to lead international agencies.

Fischer, a former World Bank chief economist and ex-vice chairman at Citigroup, has received backing from Euromoney magazine while the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post believe he is a top candidate.

But Fischer, who holds Israeli citizenship, could run into heavy opposition from Arab countries.

However, the fact he was born in Africa and straddles the line between the West and emerging market countries could draw support for his candidacy from Brazil, China and other countries opposed to another European at the IMF's helm.

"I hope we will take away the geographical presumption," Fischer said last week. "I thought we had already done that, but apparently not."

The source said that while the IMF post might be a once in a lifetime opportunity, Fischer "loves being the governor of the Bank of Israel" and is eager to ensure the success of a pet project, a soon-to-be-inaugurated monetary policy council.

"That's why he asked (last year) to stay for a second (five-year) term. If he stays, he will be happy and if he goes to the IMF, he will also be happy. He loves his life in Israel," the source said.

Fischer was not available for comment. The Bank of Israel declined to comment.

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Jon Loades-Carter)

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