WASHINGTON (Apr. 30)
Secretary of State George Shultz came out today in a strong defense of President Reagan’s planned visit to the West German military cemetery at Bitburg, saying “the more difficult the act of reconciliation the deeper its meaning.”
He also suggested that the visit to the site of Nazi graves, including at least 47 belonging to troops from the Waffen SS, will be a gesture of “reconciliation with those Germans who fought for their country in various ways.”
In his Worldnet satellite interview with European and Canadian journalists, as well as in a press briefing this morning, the upcoming economic summit in Bonn, which Shultz will also attend and which to be the focus of the two interviews, was almost entirely overshadowed by aggressive questions about the Administration’s handling of the controversy.
“I just keep having to bring you back to the importance of reconciliation, to the importance of being prepared to make that reconciliation when its difficult. And that’s what the President is doing,” Shultz said.
About four or five times in the course of the two press conferences this morning Shultz stressed that the controversy and anguish surrounding the trip would enhance the significance of reconciliation that is to mark the spirit of the President’s stay in West Germany.
Asked why the Administration insisted on visiting a Nazi cemetery rather than the graves of a German who fought the Nazi regime, Shultz maintained that “we’re not going to the Nazis.”
“Reconciliation does not mean an understanding of the things that took place,” Shultz said, referring to Nazi atrocities. But he added, “On the other hand you have people that are part of Germany who fought for their country in various ways, and our object now is to make an expression of reconciliation somehow with them as we celebrate 40 years of peace, as we celebrate the emergence of freedom and democracy and to hail that.”
Shultz suggested that those who have criticized Reagan for going ahead with the cemetery stop would, if they gave it more thought, see it as an honorable gesture.
“I think perhaps if people would think about it a little bit, in the end they may wind up admiring the person who stood by his position to carry through on that,” Shultz said.