BY A STAFF REPORTER
Still undismayed by discouraging and fruitless globetrotting from conference to conference since Potsdam brought its uneasy peace, Dr. Karl Gruber, Austria's Foreign Minister, left London last week after the collapse of the Four-Power talks on the terms of peace treaties with Germany and Austria.
Outstanding Resistance leader and prominent force behind the largelaoCatholic Austrian People's Party, Dr. Gruber impressed me as much by his frankness as by his swift and skilful countering of awkward questions.
With perhaps better reason than any other man in the capital to be despondent at the widening rift between Russia and the West, he yet clings to the faint hope of an eventual solution of his country's staggering problems.
Underlying every syllable uttered by this tall. 38-year-old Tyrolean on whom the bulk of his cornpatriots rely for a just and enduring peace, this one clear principle stood out: " Whatever may happen. the sovereignty and independence of Austria must be protected."
How that aim is to be realised in the formal Conference's sombre aftermath of suspicion. and consolidation of Soviet dominated South Eastern Europe Group. Dr. Gruber naturally refused to say. But he obviously sees a chink of light in the referring of new proposals for Austria to the foreign ministers' deputies and in the discussions which ae now being conducted on this basis.
THE FACTS SPEAK Have you any comment to offer," I asked, " on the statements of Mr. Bevin and General Marshall that Soviet Reparations claims against your country arc crippling, unjust and a visible threat to independence?"
Dr. Gruber replied curtly: "None. The facts speak for themselves."
His unwillingness to be drawn into any compromising public declaration was obvious and understand able. "Would you say," I then asked, •' that the people of Austria as a whole regard the Marshall proposals as a working plan for rebuilding Europe on its traditional Christian foundations?"
AUSTRIA NOT PRO-WEST
" Yes," replied Dr. Gruber. And the man who knows, none better, the unenviable position of Austria between East and West went on to pay tribute to the efficiency and relative selflessness of the Western Allies in administering their zones of occupation in Austria.
He then indicated that although his policy was not pro-West," he stood firm against attempts to blackmail Austria into a " pro-East" line-up. My second question dealt with the Yugoslav bouodary issue: "Do you look upon Carinthia as a danger
spot in Europe?" 1 asked. " For the moment. I don't," he answered. "There is complete unanimity among Austrians on this matter. Even the Communists agree that there is no case for splitting the natural unity of this province."
" Haven't the Slovenes in Carinthia, backed by the clergy in some cases, stated their open preference for Yugoslavia?" I asked.
" There may be local separatists," he answered, ' but its a complete falsehood to say that the Catholic clergy came out in support of Yugoslavia. 1 thought everyone already knew that a list of names of Carinthian priests was obtained by forgery when that letter was written to Moscow asking for Russian backing for the separatist movement."
I next asked Dr. Gruber if he would explain briefly the part Austrian Catholics were playing in restoring their nation, despite prevailing difficulties. He replied: " The Church itself, of course, is steering clear of politics so far as possible. Yes, Cardinal lnnitzcr is a popular figure— in spite of the record which some sections of opinion hold against biro while he was Social Welfare Minister."