Austria condemns minister for attacking Liberman

After Austrian Defense Minister Darabos calls FM "unbearable," downplays Iran threat, Vienna says he wasn't speaking for gov't.

By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL IN BERLIN
May 22, 2012 03:08
2 minute read.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman 311 (R). (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)

Austria’s Foreign Ministry condemned Norbert Darabos, the country’s defense minister, on Monday for his sharp and undiplomatic criticism of Israel and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.

Alexander Schallenberg, spokesman for Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger from the conservative People’s Party, told the daily Die Presse that Darabos’s “statements in no way express the position of the Foreign Ministry or the federal government.”

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Schallenberg added that the defense minister’s position is not compatible with the level of bilateral ties between Austria and Israel.

Darabos, of the Social Democratic Party, called Liberman “unbearable” in an interview published Saturday in Die Presse and downplayed the Iranian threat. He accused Israel of using that threat – and the Palestinian issue – to divert attention from domestic woes.

Schallenberg’s comments came a day after Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon met in Jerusalem with visiting Austrian Foreign Ministry secretary-general Johannes Kyrle for a meeting that was scheduled long before Darabos’s comments.

Ayalon, according to diplomatic officials, told his guest that Darabos’s remarks were “unacceptable,” and that Israel expected Vienna to express that they did not reflect the opinion of the Austrian government.

The officials said the incident “created a degree of discomfort” during the meeting.

Darabos, who has triggered controversy over the years for his foreign policy positions, is currently at the NATO summit in Chicago.

Born in Vienna, Darabos is part of the ethnic Croatian minority from the Austrian state of Burgenland. He has served as defense minister since 2007.

The year he was appointed to the position, Darabos elicited sharp criticism from Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg because he opposed the US plan to station missile-defense shields in Poland and the Czech Republic. His apparent inexperience in the European security field, coupled with his opposition to the rocket shields, also prompted reproach from former Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel.

Schwarzenberg expressed disbelief that a defense minister would hold such a pacifistic position. Schüssel, meanwhile, termed Darabos “a real disappointment as defense minister” in a conversation with former US ambassador to Austria Susan McCaw, according to documents released by WikiLeaks.

The WikiLeaks cables also revealed that Austrian military officials complained about the defense minister in connection with contact with US officials. According to the cables, Darabos was labelled as “incapable” due to his unwillingness to increase the military budget.


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