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Kurt Waldheim

diplomat, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and President of Austria

Kurt Waldheim

Kurt Waldheim was born at Sankt Andra-Wordern, near Vienna, Austria, on December 21, 1918. He graduated from the Vienna Consular Academy in 1936, and from the University of Vienna (with a Doctorate of Jurisprudence) in 1944. Drafted in 1941, Waldheim was wounded while serving at the Eastern Front and returned home with a medical discharge that same year. He subsequently served in the Balkans as a Lieutenant in the German Army. His later political career would be jeopardized because of this service.

Early Diplomatic and Political Career

Joined the Austria Consular Service in 1945.
First Secretary of the Legation in Paris, 1948-1951.
Head of the personnel department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Vienna, 1951 to 1955.
Appointed Permanent Observer for Austria to the United Nations, 1955.
Head of the Austrian Mission to the United Nations, 1955-1956.
Ambassador to Canada, 1956-1960.
Head of the Political Department (West) in the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 1960-1962.
Director-General for Political Affairs, 1962-June 1964.
Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations, 1964-1968.
During this period he served as Chairman of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
Elected President of the first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in 1968.

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria, January 1968-April 1970.
Chairman of the Safeguards Committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency, April-October 1970.
Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations, October 1970-December 1971.

In 1971, Waldheim was the unsuccessful candidate of the conservative People's Party for the Austrian presidency.

Secretary-General of the United Nations

The Security Council of the United Nations recommended Waldheim's appointment as Secretary-General on December 21, 1971, and the General Assembly approved the appointment by acclamation on the following day. He took office on January 1, 1972, succeeding the retiring Burmese diplomat U Thant, and was elected to another five-year term in 1976.

In his role as Secretary-General, Waldheim made it a practice to personally visit areas of special concern to the United Nations. In 1972 he travelled to South Africa and Namibia to assist in finding a satisfactory solution for the problem of Namibia. He made three trips to Cyprus -- in 1972, 1973 and 1974 -- for discussions with government leaders and to inspect the United Nations Peace-Keeping Force on the island. He made numerous trips to the Middle East in hopes of finding a way to make peace in the region, and discussed ways to overcome the consequences of the India-Pakistan war with the governments of those two countries. He also personally inspected relief operations in war-torn Bangladesh and drought-stricken areas of Africa.

Seeking an unprecedented third term in 1981, Waldheim was vetoed by China during 16 rounds of balloting before he withdrew.

President of Austria

Waldheim came out of semi-retirement to run for the presidency in 1986. During the campaign, the Austrian media began reporting that Waldheim had lied about his World War II service, claiming that he had been personally involved in Nazi war crimes while serving in the Balkans. Waldheim won the election, despite the allegations. Although the allegations were never proven before or during his presidency, Waldheim was deemed personae non gratae by many countries, including the United States. In June 1991, Waldheim announced that he would not seek another presidential term.

Kurt Waldheim died of heart failure on June 14, 2007.


United Nations

See Also

U Thant
World War II

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The Robinson Library >> Austria >> 19th-20th Centuries

This page was last updated on February 07, 2019.