The World Jewish, Congress has welcomed the decision by the United Nations not to invite former Secretary General Kurt Waldheim to the festivities marking the 50th anniversary of the international institution.
The announcement made by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali this week said that none of his predecessors would be invited to the ceremonies.
But the move was widely seen as a means of avoiding a confrontation over Waldheim, who is barred from entering the United States because of his activities during World War II.
Only one other past chief of the world body, Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, is still alive. “It now appears that he is an additional victim of Kurt Waldheim,” said Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director.
Boutros-Ghali had given private assurances to WJC two months ago that Waldheim would not be invited to the U.N. events.
In Vienna, Waldheim reacted calmly. “I can’t here neither an offense nor an intentional personal insult, considering the fact that the U.N. decided not to invite any former U.N. secretary general,” Waldheim said.
Waldheim, who was U.N. secretary general from 1972 to 1981, has been the focus of controversy since his wartime activities were disclosed during his campaign for the Austrian presidency. He won that election and served as president of Austria from 1986 to 1992.
When word of efforts to secure Waldheim an invitation became known, the U.S. State Department reiterated the government’s maintenance of Waldheim on the watch list.
In a letter to the WJC, a State Department spokesman wrote, “Our position is clear, and is well known to Austrians both within and outside the government.”
Waldheim, who served in the Wehrmacht in the Balkans and in Greece, minimized his wartime activities after the war and lied about hid knowledge of deportations of Jews.
He was listed as wanted for murder by the United Nations war crimes commission. In barring him from the United States in 1987, the U.S. Justice Department said he had “occupied positions of increasing responsibility and sensitivity, for which he was decorated, in regions where notoriously brutal actions were undertaken by the Nazi forces in which he served.”
The decision of the United Nations is a personal defeat for Austrian Foreign Minister, Alois Mock, who had lobbied hard on Waldheim’s behalf.
Waldheim himself said that “the United Nations had currently much more urgent and important issues to take care of than fight over invitation lists for anniversary guests.”