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IMF Selects Christine Lagarde as First Female Chief

June 28, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the International Monetary Fund gets a new leader at a pivotal moment for both that organization and the global economy.

For Christine Lagarde, the move from finance minister of France to director of the IMF came just six years after she entered French politics. At 55, she is one of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s longest-serving ministers.

Today, in Washington, the IMF Executive Board chose her over Agustin Carstens, the Mexican Central Bank governor.

CHRISTINE LAGARDE, French finance minister: Feel very proud, very moved, and just a little bit sad because it’s a whole chapter of my life for France that is — that I now have to move away from.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The IMF job came open after Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a friend of Lagarde’s, was charged with trying to rape a hotel made in New York.

Lagarde’s selection was assured today after U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner made clear she had American support. She will be the first woman to head the IMF and the first non-economist. But her ascension comes as the European debt crisis intensifies.

A lawyer by training, Lagarde was a key player last year in securing a bailout of nearly $140 billion for Greece.

She discussed the issue with the NewsHour’s Paul Solman last July.

PAUL SOLMAN: So, you’re not worried that there’s an imminent threat to the global economy at the moment? You wouldn’t tell me if you were, I don’t guess.

CHRISTINE LAGARDE: Well, no, no. Let me be more specific about it.

I believe that we are — I was asked whether it’s the beginning of the crisis, the middle of the crisis, or the end of the crisis. And I said, we are in the middle of the beginning of the end. That’s very Churchillian, I hasten to add, but I really mean what I say. The crisis has really hit its peak.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, the European Union and the IMF have faced challenges in Ireland and Portugal as well. And now the Greek crisis has roared back to life. It will all be waiting for Lagarde when she begins her five-year term at the IMF next week.