Washington, DC, May 20 (MTI) – The United States and Hungary are allies that should openly clarify any disputes between each other, the participants in a hearing in the US Congress on the future of US-Hungary relations said in agreement on Tuesday, local time.
Addressing the hearing held at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Europe, several contributors said bilateral relations had improved in the past six months.
Reka Szemerkenyi, Hungary’s Ambassador to Washington, DC, said Hungary was open to a “debate between friends”. The two countries represent shared interests and cooperation along strategic interests is important, she said citing military cooperation as an example. Szemerkenyi said Hungary has always supported the economic sanctions against Russia and described the government’s dedication to democracy as “rock hard”.
Hoyt Yee, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, praised the security policy cooperation between the two countries but expressed concern for the “erosion of democratic institutions in Hungary”.
He said the recent months have seen some positive signs in bilateral relations.
“For example, leading up to the parliamentary vote on deploying troops as part of the anti-ISIL coalition, the government and governing party leaders in parliament engaged in substantive consultations with other parties and the relevant parliamentary committees. What we would like to see, what we need to see, are concrete and consistent steps to directly address and correct the issues I have raised here today. We have already gone on record regarding corruption and civil society, so those would be good places to start,” he said.
Christopher H Smith, Republican Party representative and Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, said that Yee’s comments showed that the Obama administration has returned to a form of criticism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s domestic politics that already proved counterproductive and hypocritical in the past. The main reason for concern in Hungary is the radical nationalist Jobbik party, he said and praised Orban’s efforts in the fight against human smuggling.
Gregory Meeks, of the Democratic Party, expressed concerns over the increase in Russian influence and the situation of the Roma. Lloyd Poe, a Republic representative, said the US would not be pleased, either, if someone tried to interfere in its domestic politics the way as it happens in the case of Hungary. He also urged the US to liberalise without delay the export of LNG in order to reduce Europe’s energy dependence.
Kurt Volker, the Executive Director of the McCain Institute, said that even if he did not agree with every measure of the Orban government, Hungary remained a democracy and a market economy and Orban was an efficient, “Chicago-style” politician. If the US wants to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin and Islamic State, and deepen Trans-Atlantic cooperation, then criticising Hungary alone is not a constructive way of achieving its aim. He said bilateral relations improved in the past six months.
Tad Stahnke, Vice President of Human Rights First, said that since 2010, the government of Orban and his ruling Fidesz party have “made sweeping changes to the Hungarian constitutional and legal systems, a number of which have eroded the rule of law, human rights protections, and checks and balances among democratic institutions”. He criticised Orban’s declared intention to build an “illiberal” state and proposed that Washington should apply “smart diplomatic pressure” on the Hungarian government through international organisations, “enhance public diplomacy”, promote independent journalism, support civil organisations and fight corruption, anti-Semitism, racism and revisionism.
Andras Simonyi, Managing Director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the School of Advanced International Studies in Johns Hopkins University and a former Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, said he was sorry to observe that Hungary was seen as a “defective democracy” and added that Orban was not anti-Semitic but failed to do enough against anti-Semitism. He said Hungary should not stand as close to Putin as it does and added that Putin’s reception in Budapest harmed Hungary’s solidarity as a NATO ally.
Chairman Dane Rohrabacher said on the hearing that “the United States and Hungary are NATO allies, but more than that, we are both free and democratic nations with shared values and common interests. At a time when the Congress is looking more closely at the situation in Europe, it is important that we address major challenges, but to be successful, we need to work in good faith with our European partners. This hearing will provide oversight of American policies toward Hungary and help us gain a better understanding of where Hungary’s democracy is at, where it is going, and what to expect.”
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