WHEN Austrian President Kurt Waldheim met Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani during a recent state visit to Iran, the Iranian leader lavished praise on Dr. Waldheim for his ``anti-Americanism'' and ``anti-Zionism.'' The episode was only the latest embarrassment for Austria stemming from the controversial presidency of the former United Nations secretary-general.
Many Austrians had thought strains caused by Waldheim's presidency were about to end, with the end of his term in June 1992. But now Waldheim, whose past as a Nazi intelligence officer during World War II has made him a persona non grata in the West, is indicating he may seek a second term.
Waldheim has said publicly that he would base his decision ``not on personal interests'' but on ``what is best for the country.'' This was initially interpreted as a signal he would not run again. He is expected to announce his decision next month.
But Waldheim has reportedly begun sounding out politicians about the wisdom of running again, and has also spoken publicly of encouragement he has received to pursue a second six-year term.
His recent visit to Syria and Iran, the first there by a Western leader since the 1979 Islamic revolution, is seen here as part of his efforts to rehabilitate his name.
Yet several prominent members of Waldheim's conservative People's Party have counseled the president against another term.
``Waldheim simply can't run again,'' says a prominent member of the People's Party, who requested anonymity. ``I think most of us are thinking as much about him as anything else when we say this. It wouldn't be good for him, and it wouldn't be good for the country.''