Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who faces allegations of authoritarianism, will visit the US on May 13.
At 2:30 PM EDT on May 10, senior administration officials spoke of a visit by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that is scheduled for Monday, May 13.
The meeting will focus on strategic issues in Central and Eastern Europe, but it has been overshadowed by controversy. While Hungary is a member of the EU and NATO, the right-wing populist prime minister faces criticism for a governing style that many consider dictatorial.
Administration officials emphasized that “it will be the first visit of a Hungarian Prime Minister since 2005,” casting it in terms of a strategy of “re-engagement” with Central and Eastern Europe.
They further said, “We felt it was appropriate to have this frank and productive discussion on a range of topics… things like trade, energy diversification, and energy security will feature prominently, as well as security partnerships and how to expand those as, again, as NATO allies.”
Less attention has gone to this, however, than to criticism of Orbán’s domestic policies.
In regards to statements by US Ambassador to Hungary David Cornstein in praise of Orbán’s controversial style of “illiberal democracy,” officials said that that the quote came from “a much larger, longer interview that Ambassador Cornstein gave. You know, we’ve seen some of the transcripts from that, and it looks like… some of those citations were taken out of context”
They also downplayed the importance of humanitarian issues in relation to this meeting. Instead, they claimed that such concerns have already been covered in various meetings between American and Hungarian officials, saying, “all of these issues have been well-covered with all of our Hungarian counterparts… The point of this meeting is simply just to reinforce the strategic relationship between our NATO allies, not necessary to rush out every issue on the bilateral agenda, which we have been doing for the last few years”
Officials denied allegations of white nationalism against Orbán, saying “he very much focuses on Magyar and Hungarian nationalism, which is not perhaps the most universal approach, let’s put it that way, so, you know, the appeal that he makes within his own domestic politics are not ones that resonate more broadly in the rest of Europe. He very much focuses on Hungary for Hungarians, and that’s been very specifically on Magyars, I think that’s pretty well known and, you know, pretty well documented.”
However, they also commented, “we have stressed many times that we’re concerned about anti-Semitic statements from a whole host of regional leaders, European, as well as, you know, many others.”
The defense is one issue that President Trump will discuss with Orbán. Officials commended the prime minister’s commitment to meeting the NATO requirement of spending at least 2 percent of his country’s GDP on defense, saying on the possibility of arms deals, “there’s a real market share there that we think we can, we can exploit it, assuming that they are moving to increase their defense budget”
In addition, tensions are rising in the region due to a new Ukrainian law that downgrades the status of minority languages, including Hungarian. Administration officials commented, “We encouraged the Hungarians to adopt the same approach [as other countries in the region], which is to deal with those through regular diplomatic channels, and not to try to leverage other institutional arrangements.”
Energy policy is the final major issue on the table. According to officials, the administration is “trying to make sure there is not a dependency on any one source of energy within Europe… we’re particularly concerned about the case of Hungary and Germany of too much dependence on Russia.”
They expanded that “it’s not just a question of gas or oil, but as many energy sources as possible,” though they did not name any renewable sources by name.
Instead, they said, “We’re not just out there trying to help US LNG [liquefied natural gas], but we do see that also as the new, important part of the European fuel mix.”
Officials also denied allegations that the administration is focusing on relations with Hungary at the expense of countries with a stronger commitment to liberal democracy, saying “We have constant interactions at the head of state level with all of our European counterparts.”
They later added to this, “And, to be honest, we get complaints all the time from our Eastern, Southeastern European, and other counterparts, that we spend too much focus on traditional allies and traditional partners and not enough time on all of the others”