- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2000

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright sent America's ambassador back to Vienna yesterday amid what she described as "very positive" signs from Austria's far-right government, including a pledge to compensate Nazi slave workers.

Mrs. Albright told reporters that Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel yesterday in Vienna had presented his government's plans, a program that "has everything we would want. The question is whether they are going to follow through."

Mr. Schuessel's plan includes the appointment of a former central bank chief to take charge of the Nazi-era workers' compensation issue.

"The government will compensate former Nazi slave workers following a report by a committee of historians, and taking into account the responsibility of companies involved," he said.

Mrs. Albright said U.S. Ambassador to Austria Kathryn Hall received assurances during an earlier meeting with Mr. Schuessel that safeguards are being instituted to ensure that democratic values remain in place. The envoy will return to Vienna this weekend but will be summoned back to Washington in two weeks to report on developments, Mrs. Albright said.

The United States recalled Mrs. Hall for consultations last week after the Austrian parliament overwhelmingly welcomed the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in a coalition government headed by Mr. Schuessel.

Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider has caused widespread concern with anti-immigration comments and praise for Adolf Hitler's "orderly" employment policies and his Waffen SS.

Mr. Haider is not in the new government, serving as governor of the southern province of Carinthia. But his party holds six portfolios, including the finance and defense ministries.

In response to Austria's new coalition, Israel recalled its ambassador and the nations of the European Union severed bilateral contacts with Austria.

Mr. Schuessel, stung by the world's reaction to his government's moves, said: "Much of what is reported about Austria is unjustified."

But, he said, "I take it seriously. We must respond to prejudices with wide-ranging information," adding, "It is time to convince skeptics in Austria and abroad by implementing a policy of correct actions and correct language."

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, speaking at a joint press conference with Mrs. Albright late yesterday afternoon, said it was not clear how the new Austrian declaration "squares with some of the previous statements of Mr. Haider or his election campaign."

"They have set for themselves the benchmark by which they will be judged, and all of us in Europe," Mr. Cook said.

Mrs. Albright reiterated U.S. vigilance over Austria.

"We're going to be watching actions of the Austrian government, not just words," she said.

At a congressional hearing yesterday on Nazi-era compensation, Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat said an "important benchmark" for measuring the new Austrian government will be how it deals with unresolved Holocaust-related issues.

Testifying before a House subcommittee on the status of a range of compensation programs in several nations, Mr. Eizenstat said his discussions with officials on those issues in the past few days have been "very positive." He said officials had sent him a position paper that "constitutes a good basis for the government to begin to address Holocaust-related issues and confront its Nazi past."

The paper included a commitment to cooperate with programs for survivors of Nazi forced and slave labor. It also promises to encourage Austrian companies to cooperate with efforts to compensate heirs who never received payment on insurance policies held by those killed in the Holocaust, Mr. Eizenstat testified.

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