Rapport Between Hungary & United States Improves

  • 24 Mar 2015 8:00 AM
Rapport Between Hungary & United States Improves
Now that the US has a new ambassador in Hungary: Colleen Bell, you might ask if relations between Hungary and the US are changing. Sources that Heti Válasz have asked have confirmed that saying that Washington has become more pragmatic and Budapest is now more responsive to US interests in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks and Paks 2.

Having served just 18 months in Hungary, US Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend is leaving Hungary. Officially that’s due to family reasons but the DPA German news agency and some Budapest observers see his departure as Washington’s political gesture of goodwill to Hungary.

Hungarian foreign ministry sources have told this weekly that there have been several signs of thaw in the Hungarian–US ties. The improvement in relations is beneficial for Hungary because, in the long term, it would have been counterproductive to have tense relations with the world’s strongest nation and the leading force of the alliance to which Hungary belongs.

Ambassador Colleen Bell [alongside with the president of Hungary] has attended the Csángó Ball and the mangalica [pig] festival, and on the US embassy’s Facebook page she asked for tips as to which parts of Hungary she should visit. She refrains from giving lessons to Hungarian politicians and in an interview with the Hungarian news agency on March 1 she just tactfully referred to certain differences of opinions between the two countries.

The two governments are cooperating in several fields while there are certain challenges that the two countries should solve together, she said and was thankful for the cordial reception she got when taking up her post in Hungary.

The real question is not why Goodfriend and Bell differ in demeanor but why Washington’s attitude has has changed. The other day the US State Department has mentioned France and Hungary as two countries that, though they are suffering considerable financial losses due to the sanctions against Russia, are standing their ground.

When on February 18 Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the State Department, was asked by a journalist about the consequences of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Budapest on Hungary’s energy policies, she refrained from labeling the two leaders as authoritarian, instead, she said that the accord on Russian gas supply and the one on Paks 2 are bilateral matters of those two nations, which means they are not violating the sanctions against Russia.

During Putin’s visit to Budapest Bell sent a clear but unprovocative message making it clear on which side her country is standing: she gave a luncheon in honor of Ukraine’s chargé d’affaires in Hungary, Mikhailo Yunger. Also invited to that luncheon was Levente Benkő, Hungary’s deputy secretary of state for security policy, who could speak about Hungary’s policies before ambassadors of several EU and NATO member states.

Réka Szemerkényi, Hungary’s incoming ambassador to the US, received the US agrément without delay so she could present her credentials to President Barack Obama on February 24. Before the end of March Amos Hochstein, special envoy for energy affairs of the US State Department, might visit Budapest. He has mediated between Hungary’s MOL oil and gas group and the Croatian government in the row over the INA firm.

This weekly’s sources close to the Hungarian government say that Washington’s attitude towards Hungary has become more pragmatic because long-term considerations have got the upper hand over short-term ones. The “civil” demonstrations of fall 2014 in Budapest, which Goodfriend encouraged with his presence, have brought no results.

The demonstrations have not given rise to a new political force, and the current parliamentary opposition is too weak to bring down the government. A leading foreign policy source of ours says that opinion polls have shown that [the American] emphases on corruption charges against the Hungarian government have strengthened only the Jobbik party. Destabilizing an allied country would be hazardous for the US at a time when Ukraine is the verge of collapse due to the war and its economic ills.

The Hungarian government has discontinued its militant [anti-American] rhetoric. In December 2014 László Szabó, parliamentary state secretary of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry said that although current Hungarian export and investment statistics are not showing it yet, sooner or later it will be detrimental for Hungary if it cannot hammer out a political compromise with the US on the visa ban affair.

Though Hungary requested suspension of Goodfriend’s diplomatic immunity, after the US had rejected that, Hungary did not expel him, and the Hungarian Foreign Ministry hastened to announce that the case is considered as closed.

The Hungarian prime minister has also softened his rhetoric. In fall 2014 he said that the US considered Central Europe a theater of operations but during a backgrounder after Putin’s visit to Budapest he referred to Ambassador Bell as gifted and being less ideology-motivated than Goodfriend. After Orbán and Bell met at a dinner thrown in honor of former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was announced that Orbán would officially receive Bell on March 17. The day after Putin’s Budapest visit Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó personally briefed Bell of the talks. It was those very gestures that were missing in 2014, and in their absence the Americans thought that Hungary had teamed up with Russia.

Hungary has readjusted, or is planning to readjust, its position in several fields that are important for the US. An example is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks. Late in 2014 Antal Rogán, leader of the Fidesz caucus in parliament, said that the US embassies are attempting to “force” the countries of Central Europe to ratify the TTIP pact and he attributed the US pressure on the Hungarian government to Hungary’s reservations to the TTIP.

It seems that both that pressure has eased and the Hungarian government’s position is changing. A few days ago Szijjártó said in parliament that because the Hungarian economy is open, agreements that will dismantle barriers and streamline regulations might be advantageous to Hungarian national interests.

This weekly has learned that there might be progress also in connection with Paks 2. Perhaps Westinghouse of the US could supply the fuel to the nuclear power plant. If a contract were signed with Westinghouse, the US might reformulate its opinion of democracy in Hungary and the claims that Paks 2 symbolizes Hungary’s dependence on Russia would be weakened.

There has been no progress concerning the third unresolved package: the purchase of helicopters for the Hungarian defense force. Bids have not been invited yet. Our sources say that US suppliers might have a good chance of winning at the competition. (Excerpts from the published article.)

Source: Heti Válasz

Translated by Budapest Telegraph

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