PARIS — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday she "personally" welcomes French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde's candidacy for leadership of the International Monetary Fund.
"The United States has not taken an official position. Obviously other candidates may come forth," Clinton said in an interview broadcast on French television channel TF1, according to a transcript released in advance.
"But speaking unofficially and personally, I am a strong supporter of qualified women, which she is certainly one, being given the opportunity to lead international organisations," she added, referring to Lagarde.
"I actually know her. I admire her," Clinton said, adding that she had hosted Lagarde at a dinner on Wednesday evening and spoke to her about her candidacy.
"I wished her well last night and I will be watching closely as this unfolds," Clinton added.
She avoided endorsing Lagarde officially for the post, which is due to be decided by the IMF's members next month.
"Officially, the United States will be assessing and then eventually announcing its preferred candidate," she told reporters earlier Thursday.
The United States has been tightlipped about its pick for the next head of the IMF after Europe threw its support behind Lagarde.
As the biggest IMF shareholder, the US could cement her in the powerful global finance post if it joins forces with the seven European IMF directors on the IMF board.
The five top emerging economies -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- have denounced the unwritten IMF tradition of appointing a European to the post, saying they should have a greater say.
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday called Lagarde and Agustin Carstens, the governor of Mexico's central bank, "very credible" candidates to lead the International Monetary Fund, without endorsing either.
The IMF job became vacant last week when incumbent Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned after being charged with sex crimes in New York where he is currently on bail.
Strauss-Kahn must reappear in court on June 6, when he is expected to enter a formal plea of not guilty.
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