Obama Said to Pick Atkinson as Key International Economic Aide

President Barack Obama has selected Caroline Atkinson, a former spokeswoman at the International Monetary Fund, to serve as a top economic and national security adviser and be his representative at global economic summits, according to an administration official.

Atkinson, who is currently the senior Director for International Economics on the National Security Council staff, will replace Mike Froman, the president’s pick to be the next U.S. Trade Representative, once he’s confirmed to the post by the Senate, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing the matter prior to an announcement.

The Finance Committee on June 11 unanimously sent Froman’s nomination to the full Senate, where a vote has yet to be scheduled.

“It’s very important for the U.S. to have someone like Caroline in this role,” said Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive officer of Pacific Investment Management Company, which manages the world’s biggest fixed-income fund.

“We are going through a major global realignment, economic interactions are changing, geopolitics is playing a much more important role, and multilateral institutions are not keeping up with the changes on the ground,” El-Erian, who has known Atkinson since 1983, said in an interview.

Obama will make the announcement once Froman is confirmed, the official said.

Economic Summits

As deputy national security adviser for international economics, Atkinson, 61, will coordinate U.S. participation in summits of the Group of Eight and Group of 20 countries. She’ll be the president’s so-called sherpa in Northern Ireland next week, where G-8 leaders will gather at the Lough Erne resort in County Fermanagh to discuss topics including tax havens and trade proposals.

Like Froman, who was a law school classmate of Obama’s and a former executive at Citibank, Atkinson will be a member of both the National Security Council and National Economic Council.

Working alongside Froman, Atkinson has helped guide U.S. responses to the European debt crisis, tumult in the Middle East and Northern Africa, and market moves affecting emerging economies. In the new role, she will also deal with trade, climate change, energy, aid and development issues.

“Caroline will have to broaden out from what she’s principally been doing -- macroeconomic issues -- and taking over the broader portfolio,” said David Lipton, the IMF’s deputy managing director. “She knows all the technical subjects, she knows the world and she’s shown that she can deliver.”

Hard-Nosed Negotiating

The job requires hard-nosed negotiating skills mixed with a readiness to visit far-flung places where “sherpas,” as such aides are known, work on the summits’ agendas. For example, ahead of a G-8 gathering in Muskoka, Canada in June 2010, the sherpas, seeking a bonding experience, went dogsledding in Yellowknife, Canada, in minus-40 Celsius conditions.

At economic summits during Obama’s first term, the sherpas frequently negotiated the final language of communiques, down to the punctuation.

“Caroline is a seasoned veteran of the international economic stage,” former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in an e-mailed statement. “Deeply versed in the nuances of policy and the craft of diplomacy, she will provide expert counsel to the President in this new role.”

Treasury Stint

Atkinson was the IMF’s director of external relations from November 2008 until July 2011, when she joined the White House. Prior to that, she served as the fund’s deputy director for the Western Hemisphere. Before joining the IMF in 2005, she had a two-year stint as a senior director at investor consultancy Stonebridge International LLC in Washington.

She served four years at the Treasury Department under former president Bill Clinton, as senior deputy assistant for international affairs, and worked with Geithner when he was undersecretary for international affairs. At the beginning of Obama’s first-term, she was a candidate to become the Treasury’s undersecretary of international affairs, though she pulled her name out of consideration.

A one-time columnist for the Washington Post newspaper, Atkinson was a special adviser for financial stability at the Bank of England from 1994 to 1996. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University.

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