New IMF chief Christine Lagarde promised equal treatment for all countries and urged Greek politicians to unite behind an austerity plan as she launched her tenure at the global crisis lender Wednesday.
The former French finance minister also promised that the International Monetary Fund would continue to include social issues like unemployment in its tough programs for fiscally shattered economies, and would be more open to dissenting views.
Lagarde, chosen as the first woman to lead the Fund after the departure of countryman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, expressed concerns about the "uneven" recovery from the 2008-09 financial crisis, about the unsustainable weight of sovereign debt in the eurozone and elsewhere, and the impact of "imported" inflation on poorer countries.
"Even-handedness, level playing field are words that you will hear me saying over and over," Lagarde said in a press conference on her second day on the job.
"We should never lose sight of what we are about...to help restore stability where there is instability," the new managing director said.
Lagarde arrived in the job Tuesday amid concerns that she would be too Europe-focused as the crises in Portugal and Greece continue to spin.
She represents an increasingly criticized, 65-year-old tradition of Europeans heading the fund, stemming from an unwritten pact with the United States dating to the Fund's founding that also keeps an American as president of the World Bank.
But she rejected questions that she might come to the job with a fixed ideological or geopolitical view of the problems she will have to deal with.
"No one should be earmarked with a particular label," she said.
"I think you have to judge people by what they do."
But Lagarde said the eurozone crisis was an urgent matter, and that the IMF board would meet Friday on releasing a new tranche of the European Union-IMF 110 billion euro ($160 billion dollar) bailout to Athens
She urged Greece's political parties to get behind the tough austerity program dictated on Athens as part of the rescue.
"I hope all the political parties can be rightly inspired by the examples made by political parties in Ireland, by the political parties in Portugal," she said in her debut press conference at the Fund.
"It comes a time that political party rivalries should be set aside, when it's in the interest of the country," she said.
The 55 year old lawyer replaces Strauss-Kahn, who resigned on May 18 to fight allegations that he sexually assaulted a hotel chambermaid five days earlier in New York.
The Strauss-Kahn arrest cast a cloud over the IMF, but since then prosecutors have admitted deep doubts about the accuser's credibility and New York newspapers reported this week that the case could soon be dropped.
Lagarde declined to comment specifically on the case, but said the media should "respect" the principle of presumption of innocence.
"I think the presumption of innocence is something that is highly valued the world over," she said.
She said she would keep up Strauss-Kahn's injection of social issues like job creation into the Fund's plans for helping countries restructure their finances.
"Clearly employment is a key issue ...that determines a stable social chemistry of a society," she said.
Lagarde also has to rebuild the Fund's image after Strauss-Kahn, respected for his policies but whose personal behavior raised questions about ethical standards.
Early in his tenure the married Strauss-Kahn was censured by the board for an affair he had with an IMF economist, and media reports have since characterized such behavior as common at the Fund.
In May the IMF announced new ethics standards for inter-office relationships and for sexual harassment, and it has expanded ethics training for staff.
"I will be taking the training program on ethics," Lagarde said. "I look forward to it."