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Peres Visits Austrian Capital, Ending Chill in Bilateral Ties

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met here this week with top Austrian officials, breaking the ice in the chilly diplomatic relations the two countries have shared for the past two decades.

Peres, who is the first Israeli foreign minister to visit the Austrian capital since 1973, invited Chancellor Franz Vranitzky to reciprocate. And he extended a similar invitation to Austrian President Thomas Klestil on behalf of his Israeli counterpart, Chaim Herzog.

Vranitzky is planning a trip to Israel as early as next spring, and Klestil announced that he would like to visit the Jewish state sometime next year.

Relations between Israel and Austria have been strained since the early 1970s, when Bruno Kreisky was chancellor. Though Jewish himself, Kreisky maintained close ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization and often differed sharply with Israel over Middle East policy.

But bilateral relations sunk to a new low with the election of Kurt Waldheim as Austrian president in June 1986. Prior to the election, the World Jewish Congress revealed that Waldheim had concealed his membership in the Nazi Party and his World War II service in a Germany army unit accused of perpetrating atrocities against civilians in Greece and the Balkan states.

An easing of the cool ties between the two countries began during the last year of Waldheim’s presidency, which ended last July. Exchange visits have been made by the mayors of Vienna and Jerusalem, and by the education ministers of both countries.

“The substance of our relations was always very good. Now, we also note an improvement in the formal part of our relations, “Klestil said Wednesday at his meeting with Peres.

Vranitzky welcomed the end to the slowdown in links between the two countries. “Relations between the two countries can now return to the level which befits these two countries,” the chancellor said in a meeting of close to an hour with Peres.

Peres officially thanked Austria for hosting multilateral talks on water resources as part of the Middle East peace negotiations.

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