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Israel Seeks Ties With Austria

July 24, 2002

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BERLIN (AP) _ Israel’s prime minister said he is ready to restore diplomatic relations with Austria, two years after they were severed over the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in Vienna’s ruling coalition.

Israel and 14 of the European Union’s 15 members imposed diplomatic sanctions on Austria in 2000 after Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel brought the Freedom Party into his center-right coalition. The Freedom Party and its former leader, Joerg Haider, are frequently associated with remarks and actions that critics say are anti-Semitic or anti-foreigner.

The EU eventually lifted their measures, but Israel did not.

In an interview with Michel Friedman, a German Jewish leader and talk-show host, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he was ready to send an Israeli ambassador back to Vienna. Israel has been represented since 2000 in Austria by a charge d’affaires.

The interview was to be broadcast Wednesday evening on German state television station ARD, but advance copies were made available.

``I have suggested to our foreign minister that we should renew our relations with Austria,″ Sharon said. ``I think the solution to this problem is not the boycott, but instead talks, demands and the mobilization of all people who believe in democracy.″

Reacting to the comments, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said Israel had to make the first step toward normalization of relations, telling Austrian state broadcaster ORF that Austria had done all it could.

Israeli-Austrian relations have been fragile for years over numerous issues. Besides the of the Freedom Party in government, ties were strained by the 1986 election of Kurt Waldheim as president despite revelations he had served in a German army unit involved in deporting Jews during World War II, and Austria’s sluggish approach to compensating Holocaust survivors.

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