- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

Austria's foreign minister yesterday hailed the end of U.S. sanctions against her country but said it will take time for the "wounds to heal" from the international uproar over a far-rightist party joining the government in Vienna.

"The episode is certainly over," Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said after a meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright yesterday in which full diplomatic relations were restored.

She spoke at a luncheon with reporters at the residence of the Austrian ambassador to Washington, Peter Moser.

Following the lead of Austria's European Union partners, the United States in February limited its bilateral contacts with Austria after the center-right People's Party invited the populist, anti-immigrant Freedom Party to join a coalition government.

The EU sanctions, pushed by center-left governments in France and Belgium, were even harsher, strictly limiting political and diplomatic contacts with the Vienna government and refusing to support Austrian nationals for important international posts.

International concern focused on Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider and a string of comments he has made that appear to minimize the country's Nazi past. But the sanctions sparked deep resentment inside Austria, where they were seen as an example of big countries bullying a smaller country for the results of a democratic election.

The EU lifted its sanctions in September after concluding that the penalties were "counterproductive."

"We still haven't reached the moment where the wounds really heal," said Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner, a member of the People's Party. "The Austrian people have been very frustrated by the situation, more so with their European neighbors than with the United States."

Still, she said, the U.S. action was welcome because continuing the penalties could affect Austrian attitudes toward the United States, she said.

Mrs. Albright cited recent agreements with the government of Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel on money-laundering and compensation for victims of Nazi slave-labor camps, as well as the government's adherence to a declaration rejecting anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

Mrs. Albright and Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner "agreed that our mutual accomplishments have allowed U.S.-Austrian relations fully to regain their normal, productive profile," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a statement.

The rise of far-right political parties has unnerved a number of European countries. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder yesterday announced his government would ask the country's highest court to ban the far-right National Democratic Party following a string of violent incidents blamed on rightist elements.

In Austria, Mr. Schuessel appears to be winning his gamble that inviting the Freedom Party into power would pose more problems for the populist Mr. Haider than for himself.

The Freedom Party has fallen in public opinion polls since February and suffered a major setback in provincial elections last month. The party has also been hit by scandals involving spying on political opponents, and three Freedom Party ministers in the Cabinet have resigned since the government was formed in February.

Mr. Haider, who has accused his coalition partner of undermining his party's support, yesterday threatened to pull out of the government and force new elections.

Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner said the domestic political maneuvering would not affect Austria's principal foreign policy interests, including working to add a number of new central and eastern European countries to the European Union in the coming years.

But she made clear that Austria, which borders on four of the prospective new EU members, was standing firm for a "transition period" for the enlargement because of fears of low-wage labor and market competition from the east.

"It's not just Haider," she said. "There is resistance in some of the unions, in business chambers, in the regions along the border. We have to understand that."

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