VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Austrian officials tried at the last minute to produce evidence that President Kurt Waldheim was innocent of wrongdoing during his World War II army service, but Washington would not consider it, U.S. Ambassador Ronald Lauder said Wednesday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Lauder also suggested Washington could ease tensions between Austria and the United States by giving Austrian officials the evidence against Waldheim.

Lauder indicated that he first learned Sunday night about a U.S. decision to bar Waldheim from the United States. The following day, the U.S. Justice Department announced it had placed Waldheim on a ''Watchlist'' of undesirable aliens.

Before the announcement, Lauder said, Austrian government officials called the U.S. Embassy saying they wanted to submit new evidence in the Waldheim case. The ambassador did not describe the material.

Lauder said he notified the Justice Department in Washington but was told, ''Listen, his lawyers have been in here six times in the last six months with a great deal of proposals on showing his innocence ... They have been shown what we have.''

Lauder said that since the announcement, Waldheim had rallied Austrian support by making appeals to patriotism and the national past.

''What has happened obviously is that Kurt Waldheim has wrapped himself very much, not only in the flag ... but in the whole country, saying that 'if I'm accused, the whole people's accused,''' Lauder said.

He said that Waldheim, by emphasizing that he is the elected president, has in effect told Austrians, ''if you find me guilty, then you're finding yourselves, your brothers, your uncles, your cousins guilty, because I didn't do anything more than they did in the war.''

The U.S. ambassador, who arrived in Vienna last summer, said he has met Waldheim, 68, at several official functions.

At each meeting, Waldheim has assured the ambassador ''that he was not guilty, that his family was anti-Nazi and that he can refute every claim made against him,'' Lauder said.

The ambassador said he had not seen the Justice Department evidence but added, ''I have to believe that the U.S. Justice Department would not make a move like this without sufficient evidence.''

Waldheim on Wednesday said he had been found guilty without proof. Almost all Austrian media commentators have voiced similar sentiments.

Asked his reaction to this point, Lauder said it ''would help greatly'' if the Austrians were shown the Justice Department material.

Lauder said he gave Chancellor Franz Vranitzky a letter about the decision about 2 1/2 hours before it was announced in Washington.

Vranitzky was ''very surprised and very dismayed'' by the news, Lauder said. However, the chancellor indicated at that meeting and a subsequent discussion on Wednesday that he wants to go ahead with a planned visit to the United States next month, Lauder said.

Vranitzky feels it is important ''to give the Austrian point of view and not to cut Austria off from the West,'' Lauder said. The ambassador said he also wants the visit to go ahead.

Lauder said the U.S. Embassy had received hundreds of letters, telegrams and telephone calls from Austrians about the decision on Waldheim. About 40 percent favored the move, he said.