NEW YORK (Jul. 24)
Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel apparently has canceled plans to meet with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim this week in the Austrian city of Salzburg.
According to the World Jewish Congress, the former Czechoslovak dissident-turned-president has clarified that his visit to Salzburg will not be an official trip and that he will have no official or private meetings with Waldheim.
Havel and West German President Richard von Weizsacker had been invited to Salzburg to participate in the opening ceremonies of the famous music festival there, which are being held Thursday.
It was not clear Tuesday whether von Weizsacker would cancel his planned meeting with the Austrian president, who has been largely ostracized by Western leaders since his World War II service in the German army came to light. Waldheim served as an intelligence officer in an army unit linked to atrocities in the Balkans.
In Bonn, an aide to the president said Monday that he was planning to go ahead with the controversial meeting, despite vehement protests from Jewish citizens there.
In Washington, however, an official at the West German Embassy said Tuesday that a private meeting was not scheduled. The official said the embassy would not have further information on the subject from Bonn until Wednesday.
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, the Simon Wiesenthal Center reported a different version of events. The center said Havel had told Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal last week in Prague that he had never planned to meet either in an official capacity or privately with Waldheim.
Havel said he had been invited to address the music festival two years ago when he was still a dissident under the former Czechoslovak Communist regime, and that the invitation had not come from Waldheim.
A MAJOR DIPLOMATIC SNUB
Whether it was or was not a cancellation, Havel’s decision not to meet with Waldheim is a major public snub to the Austrian president, as it is normal diplomatic courtesy for a visiting head of a friendly state to greet a country’s titular chief officially.
The visit, had it occurred, would have been a significant feat for Waldheim, who has had little success breaking out of his diplomatic isolation since his election some three years ago.
“A meeting of this type would politically rehabilitate Waldheim at a point where it is questionable whether he will continue to be president,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Jewish organizations in the United States, Canada and Europe had voiced their alarm at the possible meeting.
B’nai Brith Canada had written letters to both von Weizsacker and Havel urging them to cancel any scheduled meeting with Waldheim, which they termed “deeply disturbing, inappropriate and insensitive.”
The WJC also had been pressuring the two statesmen to rethink the meeting. “It would send the wrong signal on the eve of German reunification for a German statesman to meet with an unrepentant Nazi,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC.
Von Weizsacker received numerous letters from West German Jews urging him to stay away from the meeting.
And an American Jewish protest group called the Coalition of Concern was to leave Tuesday for West Berlin and Salzburg to protest the meeting.
(JTA correspondent David Kantor in Bonn contributed to this report.)