- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

The United States should lift a 14-year-old travel ban on former Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, according to the Austrian foreign minister, who says that newly released CIA documents do not support charges Mr. Waldheim was a Nazi collaborator during World War II.
"There is no information whatsoever in these files that he assisted in the persecution of any person," said Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Walder, of Mr. Waldheims war service with German forces in Yugoslavia and Greece.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, before a series of meetings with top Bush administration officials, Mrs. Ferrero-Walder said that removing Mr. Waldheim from the U.S. government's "watch list" of prohibited war criminals would be a "humanitarian act" toward a man now in his early 80s.
The unexpected request, quickly condemned by leading Jewish groups, threatens to revive the debate over the level of anti-Semitism in the small Alpine nation.
In 2000, Austria was the target of European Union and U.S. diplomatic sanctions over the inclusion of the far-right, anti-immigrant Freedom Party in the governing coalition. Israel also recalled its ambassador to Austria over statements by leading Freedom Party officials apparently minimizing the country's Nazi past.
Elan Steinberg, executive director of the New York office of the World Jewish Council, called the Austrian effort a "disgrace." He said that the CIA files, released last month, did not exonerate Mr.Waldheim as Mrs. Ferrero-Walder claimed.
"I can't see any circumstances under which Waldheim should be allowed to travel to this country," he said. The World Jewish Council took the lead in the campaign against Mr. Waldheim in the mid-1980s.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said, "I'm sorry to see this whole affair surface once again. Mr. Waldheim lied about his Nazi past and nothing in these documents changes that."
Mrs. Ferrero-Walder raised the issue in a private meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday afternoon.
Mr. Powell "made it clear that we are not in a position to change our determination," a State Department official said. The Austrian foreign minister, however, said she had been told the U.S. government would look at the question.
The charges against Mr. Waldheim became public in the mid-1980s, after he had served two terms as secretary-general of the United Nations.
At the time, Mr.Waldheim admitted concealing his German army war service in the Balkans and Greece, but consistently maintained that he had not participated in any war crimes or assisted in the deportation of Greek Jews to Nazi death camps.
The Reagan administration Justice Department placed Mr. Waldheim on the watch list in 1987.
Mrs. Ferrero-Walder, who is not a member of the Freedom Party, said the CIA intelligence files do nothing to challenge Mr. Waldheim's claims that he was a junior officer merely serving as an interpreter for more senior German officers.
Despite the international outcry over Mr. Waldheim's past, he was elected president of Austria in 1986. He served a full term, although many nations refused to receive him.
Mr. Steinberg contended that the new U.S. files deal only with Mr. Waldheim's postwar career.
The documents reveal that a second set of charges that the Soviet Union used its knowledge of Mr. Waldheim's Nazi past to blackmail him in his subsequent diplomatic career was not substantiated.
"That's clearly not the same thing as saying he was not guilty of anything during the war," Mr. Steinberg said.
He cited a 202-page report, released by an international panel of historians in 1986, which concluded there was substantial evidence that Mr. Waldheim knew of and assisted German army efforts to deport Jews to concentration camps. According to Mr. Steinberg, the report also showed that Mr. Waldheim had a long history of association with the Nazis dating back to his student days.
Yesterday, Mrs. Ferrero-Walder said that she knew the Waldheim affair "is not an easy decision to deal with, but I think we can at least agree to re-examine the case and look at the facts."


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