- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

Austria's interior minister said yesterday he received a "warm and cordial" reception from top Clinton administration officials, despite State Department assertions that diplomatic sanctions of Austria's rightist government remain in effect.
This week's visit by Interior Minister Ernst Strasser is the first bilateral meeting here with a senior Austrian official since a coalition government containing the anti-immigrant, far-right Freedom Party took power in Austria in February.
Here to discuss international security issues including money laundering, drug trafficking, and cyber-terrorism, Mr. Strasser met with Attorney General Janet Reno, White House drug police chief Barry McCaffrey and Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner, as well as top counterterrorism and security officials at the State Department, FBI and the CIA.
The Austrian minister said the meeting with Miss Reno Tuesday even went beyond the allotted time, with the attorney general seeking more details of a human rights advisory group Austria has established to monitor the performance of its security forces.
The meetings came despite past Clinton administration pronouncements that Austrian officials would be met only at "reduced diplomatic levels" as the U.S. government monitors the new Austrian coalition's adherence to democratic principles.
The administration briefly recalled its ambassador to Vienna in February and said it would be seeking periodic updates on the new government's performance.
State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker denied that the minister's itinerary signaled any softening in U.S. policy toward Austria, which has faced even sterner diplomatic sanctions from its European Union (EU) partners.
"All along, we have met with Austrian officials when it's in the U.S. interest to do so, and so the meetings that Minister Strasser has had are very much ones that are beneficial to our overall efforts to combat international crime," Mr. Reeker said.
"What I can report to you today is that our policy hasn't changed at all," he added.
Mr. Strasser, asked about his reception in a meeting with reporters yesterday morning, said bilateral U.S.-Austrian relations were not discussed directly in his meetings.
But he said he took his reception as a "strong signal" the U.S. government was prepared to work with Austria on issues of major international importance.
He said the trip had originally been slated as a "working visit" with lower-level U.S. officials, but was upgraded to include meetings with Miss Reno and other top-level officials.
The reception was in stark contrast to the one given Austria's finance minister, who was unable to secure any bilateral meeting with U.S. officials while in Washington in April for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual meetings.
The European Union in recent days has been seeking to back down from its earlier harsh position toward Austria, appointing a panel of three "wise men" to meet with Austrian leaders on how to end the impasse.
The blackballing had been pushed by center-left governments in France, Belgium and Portugal, but a number of the smaller EU members have begun to question the effectiveness of the policy.
Mr. Strasser is a member of the center-right Austrian People's Party, which formed the alliance that brought the Freedom Party into the government for the first time.

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