Clinton Aide Softens Rebuke of Swiss Memo: Eizenstat Finds No Anti-Semitic Intent

Article excerpt

The Clinton administration yesterday backtracked on earlier statements, saying there were no signs of anti-Semitism in a memo that implied Switzerland was at war with American Jewish organizations over its handling of Holocaust assets.

U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce Stuart Eizenstat, who coordinates U.S. investigations into Swiss handling of Holocaust assets, said yesterday the Swiss government memo did contain some "very strong, unfortunate wording."

But after giving the memo a complete reading, he said, he felt the initial U.S. reaction was overblown.

The confidential memo, written by the Swiss ambassador to the United States, Carlo Jagmetti, and leaked to the Swiss press last weekend, led to the ambassador's resignation on Monday.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns on Monday called the memo "very troubling."

"Any ambassador in Washington who advocates waging a public relations campaign against American Jewish groups and against Holocaust survivors is just wrongheaded," Mr. Burns said. "It's just not the right thing to do."

Yesterday, after meeting with the Swiss foreign minister in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Eizenstat told reporters Mr. Burns was reacting to a false impression created by the media after the memo was leaked to the Swiss press over the weekend.

Initial reports on the document "gave a sense that somehow Switzerland was in a war and that there were enemies out to get Switzerland. That is not the case," he said. "There are no enemies of Switzerland in the United States."

In Washington yesterday, speaking before reporters at the National Press Club, Mr. Jagmetti defended the wording in his memo and stressed there was no anti-Semitic intent.

"If terms or expressions used in a very few sentences were indeed harsh, they never referred to people or groups of people, leave alone a nation," he said.

"Whatever harsh words I used in the text of this . . . confidential document were meant to energize our decision makers to advance this issue as quickly as possible. Regrettably, sometimes harsh language is sometimes needed to get results." Mr. Jagmetti said he sent a series of memos to his government expressing his "deep concern" over criticism his country could receive related to Holocaust assets and offering steps to improve his country's image in the eyes of the international community. …