VIENNA (Aug. 26)
Austrian President Kurt Waldheim returned here Sunday from his controversial meeting in Baghdad with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, escorting 96 Austrian hostages released by the Iraqi leader.
The freeing of the Austrian detainees was Waldheim’s stated goal for his visit to Baghdad on Saturday, in which he also tried to act as a mediator in the fiery Persian Gulf crisis.
Waldheim is the first Western leader to meet with the Iraqi president since he ordered his troops to invade Kuwait on Aug. 2.
The two held a high-profile joint news conference Saturday, which was broadcast by Iraqi television and then by Cable News Network, which rebroadcast the Iraqi tape.
The news conference, most of it taken up by Hussein, included the Iraqi president’s unforgettable remark that any American attempts to use force would be met with “columns of dead bodies.”
Waldheim’s move seemed designed to draw him out of his international isolation, which resulted from revelations about his activities as a German intelligence officer in the Balkans during World War II, in which Jews and partisans were deported and killed.
Success getting Iraq’s Hussein to cease his aggressions would reap considerable recognition for the mostly scorned former U.N. secretary-general.
Although Waldheim has visited with several Arab leaders since being elected president in June 1986, he has been largely shunned by Western leaders, following revelations that he concealed his activities and whereabouts during the Holocaust.
One exception was his meeting last month at the Salzburg Music Festival with Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel and West German President Richard von Weizsacker, which was widely criticized.
SNIDE EDITORIALS IN ISRAEL
Waldheim’s visit with Hussein of Iraq drew snide comments in Israel, where commentators said Waldheim had played into Hussein’s hands.
The independent Ma’ariv, in an editorial, said, “Waldheim in Baghdad with Saddam. It takes one to know one. Better he should have stayed there.”
The mass-circulation daily Yediot Achronot accused Waldheim of a “deal with the devil.”
Israel pulled its ambassador from Vienna in 1986 when Waldheim assumed the presidency and never replaced anyone in that position.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry refused to comment about the meeting.
However, Ehud Olmert, Israel’s minister of health, told reporters following Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, “I have no doubt that this meeting and combination are very appropriate for each other. Saddam Hussein and Mr. Waldheim fit each other.”
Similarly, Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, which singlehandedly went after Waldheim following the first disclosures of his activities, said in New York that the two men “belong together. The world is being treated to the spectacle of an old Nazi and a new Nazi.”