Austrian releases book recounting visits with Saddam

Wednesday, March 19th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Austrian Joerg Haider praised Saddam Hussein as being cultivated, pleasant and open-minded and denounced the U.S. push for war against Iraq at the release Wednesday of his book about the Iraqi dictator.

Haider, the former leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, told reporters his two meetings with the Iraqi president in Baghdad last year were "interesting and philosophical."

Austria's government - and Washington - criticized Haider's travels to Iraq at the time.

Haider, the governor of the province of Carinthia, previously drew international rebukes for his praise of some of Adolf Hitler's policies and other remarks deemed insulting to Jews.

"I didn't have the feeling of sitting across from an uncultured villain of history," Haider said of Saddam. "My impression is that we had a pleasant, cultivated, comprehensive talk."

In the 215-page book - roughly translated as "Saddam's Guest: In the `Empire of Evil'" - Haider depicts himself as an advocate of peace, describing his meetings with Pope John Paul II and other Arab leaders besides Saddam.

Haider withdrew from national politics in 2000. After his party joined the government that year, the European Union imposed seven months of diplomatic sanctions on Austria and Israel withdrew its ambassador.