Israel today recalled its ambassador in Vienna for consultations as a symbolic protest of the election of Kurt Waldheim as president of Austria because of his association with the Nazi regime during World War II.
Following a morning meeting between Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a government spokesman announced that Ambassdor Michael Elizur would be recalled immediately and that further Cabinet talks would be held on the level of Israel's diplomatic representation in Austria.
Israeli officials said that it is unlikely that any Israeli diplomatic representative will attend the July 8 inauguration of Waldheim. Israel will leave its charge d'affaires, Uri Pross-Or, in Vienna, and take no steps toward further reducing representation until consultations have been completed, Foreign Ministry officials said.
It is the first time in 15 years that Israel has recalled an ambassador under such circumstances, Foreign Ministry officials said. Israel first established diplomatic relations with Austria in 1948 immediately after the founding of the Jewish state and a full embassy was established in July 1959.
The Israeli government appeared today to be trapped between its chagrin over Waldheim's victory and its wish to maintain friendly ties with a country that played a major role as a way station for emigrating Soviet Jews and also aided a number of prisoner exchanges involving Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
When asked whether the deliberations were aimed at distinguishing between Austria's presidency and the Austrian government, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "This position has nothing to do with Austria as a country, and we will do everything possible to maintain friendly relations with Austria."