Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, accused by Jewish groups of participating in Nazi war crimes, today was barred from entering the United States because of evidence that he persecuted people during World War II, the Justice Department announced.
“The evidence collected . . . establishes a prima facie case that Kurt Waldheim assisted or otherwise participated in the persecution of persons because of race, religion, national origin or political opinion,” Justice Department spokesman Terry Eastland said in a statement.
The decision was taken by Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III on the advice of the State Department’s legal affairs bureau. Waldheim is the first head of state ever to be barred from the United States.
In Vienna, Foreign Minister Alois Mock said the decision has produced “great dismay.” Austria recalled its ambassador for consultations, and Mock said it is unclear whether Chancellor Franz Vranitzki will proceed with a visit to the United States planned for later this month.
‘Added to Watch List’
At the Justice Department, Eastland’s statement said the department ordered, “as required by law, that Kurt Waldheim’s name be added to the Watch List"--a lookout system “to alert consular officers as to his prima facie ineligibility for a visa to enter the United States.”
If Waldheim tried to enter the country, he would be stopped at the border and told that he could not enter. He would have the right to an administrative hearing if he wanted to contest the matter. His diplomatic immunity afforded him as head of state would not be a factor.
The Justice Department said that, if Waldheim were to be issued an official invitation to visit this country as the head of state, the department would address the question of whether he should be permitted to enter.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Reagan has “no plans to invite him now.”
In Vienna, meanwhile, a spokesman for Waldheim, Gerold Christian, refused all comment for the moment.
‘Deception and Deceit’
But Edgar M. Bronfman, the president of the World Jewish Congress, one of the groups that had fought to keep Waldheim out of the United States, said in New York that Meese “has acted in a courageous manner and has sent a clear message: Nazis are not welcome here. . . . Kurt Waldheim is and remains the symbol of deception and deceit in the world.”
Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), an author of the congressional resolution calling on Meese to investigate Waldheim, said, “It took a lot of guts to do what he did.”
An Austrian embassy spokesman, Walter Greinert, said Ambassador Thomas Klestil was summoned to the White House this morning to be told personally by President Reagan of the decision.
At the same time, Greinert said, Reagan “reaffirmed the close and friendly relations between our two countries, and he has stressed how important it is to continue these relations at the same quality.”
War Wound in 1941
Until a year ago, Waldheim had maintained that he was discharged from the German army after suffering a war wound on the Russian front in 1941.
Actually, Waldheim spent the remainder of the war as a German army intelligence officer in the Balkans, according to records uncovered in 1986 by the World Jewish Congress.
A 1947 report by the Yugoslav War Crimes Commission links Waldheim to orders calling for the murder of Yugoslav civilians and the destruction of villages in World War II. The commission called for extraditing him and putting him on trial as a Nazi war criminal. He was never extradited.
Waldheim has denied that he was involved in any reprisals against Yugoslav partisans and says he had no knowledge of the deportation of Jews from Salonika, Greece.