Protecting the external borders is Europe’s most pressing task, Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister, said on Tuesday.
Szijjarto, who is in Kuwait to attend the foreign ministerial conference of the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State terrorist organisation, told MTI by phone that the meeting evaluated the results so far and discussed further steps.
He noted that thanks to the coalition’s military successes, IS had lost 98 percent of its previously occupied territories. “This is good news, but it has brought new challenges,” he said.
“The terrorist organisation has switched tactics, and on the one hand it is attempting to occupy new territories, but it is wants to send its European foreign fighters, who went there to fight on the side of the Islamic State, back home. Some five thousand people have gone there from Europe and three thousand people there who are citizens of the European Union are still there”,
he said, adding that: “The Islamic State wants to send them back to Europe to commit acts of terrorism here”.
Szijjarto said IS, in its current form, presents a new security threat to Europe, and the new migration wave could “open the gateway” to these terrorists. “This is why it is now more important than ever to defend the EU’s external borders.”
The minister also addressed the issue of helping Christian communities returning to their homes. Unless they return, IS or another terrorist organisation could re-occupy these areas and launch new attacks, he insisted.
Szijjarto said Hungary is in the midst of increasing the number of military personnel in Erbil, Iraq, from 150 to 200, and the new contingent would be in place by the end of February. In addition to its guard duties, Hungarian soldiers are carrying out military training not only in the Kurdish region but in Iraq as a whole, he added.
Hungary is doing everything it can to ensure that people who have been displaced from their homes can return safely, he said. The country is providing half a billion forints through the Ecumenical Aid Organisation to support the repatriation of refugees who fled from Iraq, as well as spending 580 million forints to renovate and resettle damaged houses in Iraq. It is also providing 145 million forints to buy medicines for Iraqi hospitals. Fully 620 million forints is being allocated to support Syrian Christian churches in their efforts to support Christians made destitute due to the war, the minister noted.
Szijjarto held bilateral talks with counterparts from Iraq, Turkey, Malaysia, Slovenia, Saudi Arabia and Australia during a visit to Kuwait.
He told MTI over the phone that he had agreed with his Iraqi counterpart on Baghdad granting visas to all members of a Hungarian contingent to arrive in Iraq to replace the current contingent. Hungary has increased the number of soldiers stationed in Iraq from 150 to 200 and the new soldiers are scheduled to arrive there in late February, he added. The two ministers also agreed that Hungary will offer medical treatment to twenty Iraqi soldiers wounded in the fights against the IS. Similarly to last year, Hungary will again offer a training course on bomb disposal to members of the Iraqi army this year.
Szijjarto confirmed for his Turkish counterpart that Hungary, as a dedicated supporter of the global war against terrorism, will always bear solidarity with Turkey in its counter-terrorism efforts. Economic cooperation between Hungary and Turkey has been expanding and total trade exceeded 3 billion dollars by the end of last year, he added.
Szijjarto and his Malaysian counterpart finalised a document on economic cooperation. They also agreed about educational exchange and to grant 40 Malaysian students Hungarian scholarships. A document on agricultural cooperation has also been finalised, he said. Malaysia is one of Hungary’s key trade partners in the region, with bilateral trade up by 31 percent last year.
Szijjarto and his Slovenian counterpart discussed the issue of cross-border infrastructure. They agreed that a new road will be opened between Lendvadedes and Dolga Vas (Hosszufalu) this year. They held talks on linking the two countries’ gas networks. The Slovenian side promised to finish the works required for a connection between the two countries’ electricity grids by 2019. The Hungarian facilities required for the link are already in place.
Szijjarto and his Saudi Arabian counterpart discussed the Middle East peace process and conflicts in the Arab Gulf. The Hungarian minister said that the region’s stability is also in Hungary’s interest because “no matter what happens in this region, it will have an almost immediate effect on Europe’s security.”
Szijjarto said he also met his Australian counterpart who is scheduled to pay an official visit in Hungary on February 22 where he will also meet other Visegrad Group foreign ministers.