WASHINGTON — Negotiations on compensation to be paid by Nazi-era German corporations to labor camp survivors have made progress, but there is no chance for an agreement by a Sept. 1 deadline, an official said Thursday.
The chief U.S. negotiator, Stuart Eizenstat, told reporters after daylong talks that the best that can be achieved by the deadline is an agreement on principles. Under the plan, compensation would be paid to an estimated 1 million survivors of slave or forced-labor camps.
Eizenstat was joined at the State Department discussions by the chief German negotiator, former Economics Minister Otto Lambsdorff; representatives of the 16 German enterprises concerned; and officials of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and Austria. Also attending were officials from several Central and Eastern European countries.
Eizenstat said he was informed by Lambsdorff of the willingness of the German government to submit legislation for the creation of a federal fund for workers who would not otherwise qualify for compensation.
He called this a "key building block" for an eventual agreement. He said he expects the legislation to be approved by the second quarter of next year.
He added that no decision has been made as to the size of the German government fund. The next negotiating session will take place in Germany during the third week of August.
Claimants found eligible would receive one-time payments as compensation, but there has been no public discussion of the amounts contemplated. The fund would be capped, meaning it would not increase even if additional claimants come forward at the end of the process.
At present, Eizenstat said, the negotiators lack a clear idea as to the number of workers who are eligible for compensation.
A key goal of the companies is legal closure--meaning they would be immune from future legal claims by victims.
One of the more difficult unresolved issues involves compensation for agricultural workers, who lived under circumstances far different from those of industrial workers, Eizenstat said.
When the process began Feb. 16, negotiators set a Sept. 1 timetable without realizing how difficult the assignment was, said Eizenstat, who assumed new duties this month as the Treasury Department's No. 2 official.
"The enormity of the complexity has been a daunting factor for all of us," he said.
Despite the difficulties, Eizenstat said it would be a major accomplishment if the German people and the German government at the start of a new millennium were able to handle in a humanitarian way the actions of the Nazi regime 60 years ago.
There is, he said, "a real possibility of doing something genuinely historic."