Szijjarto: Hungary, US strengthen strategic alliance

Hungary and the United States have strengthened their strategic alliance, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said after talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Wednesday.

Szijjarto told Hungarian public media that at their talks, he and Pompeo had reaffirmed that the US considers Hungary and the entire central European region its natural allies.
The minister said he had reassured his American counterpart that “Hungary will not join the European choir that has now made a hobby of criticising the United States.” He said Hungary would continue to take a “balanced approach” to US domestic and foreign policy decisions “without commenting on or criticising them”.

The minister said the US administration and the Hungarian government had similar approaches to a number of political issues, noting that they both assign a high priority to ensuring the security of their citizens. Szijjarto said he and Pompeo had agreed that Hungary and the US will continue to cooperate in key foreign policy issues such as the reform of the United Nations and ensuring that the international community applies a fair approach to Israel.

The two countries will also cooperate in the fight against illegal migration and terrorism as well as the protection of Christian communities around the world, Szijjarto said.

He said the US would play a key role in guaranteeing Hungary’s energy supply, adding that his US partner had assured him that the federal government would support the transportation of the American gas to be extracted in Romania to Hungary. Szijjarto noted that the US is Hungary’s second largest investor. The 1,700 American companies doing business in Hungary employ 100,000 people, he added. Szijjarto said that at their meeting, he and Pompeo had reaffirmed their intention to further develop bilateral economic cooperation.

He also underlined the importance of boosting defence cooperation and said he had presented Hungary’s proposals concerning the renewal of an agreement on the two countries’ future defence cooperation to his colleague. He noted that Hungary and the US had already conducted two rounds of talks on the matter, adding that there was a “clear political will” to renew the pact. The minister said he and Pompeo had agreed to speed up this process.

Szijjarto said he and his American counterpart had also agreed that Hungarian troops would also take part in a planned NATO training mission in Iraq. He said their talks also covered the need for NATO member states to increase their defence spending to 2 percent of GDP. Hungary has a clear plan in place to meet this target, Szijjarto said. The minister also emphasised the importance of regional security for Hungary, adding that the foundation of this was the protection of minorities in Europe, especially in central Europe.

On the topic of the fight against terrorism, Szijjarto said that thanks to the efforts of the US-led global coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS), the militant group has lost 98 percent of the territory it once held. But IS now wants to return its former international fighters to European countries, and the only defence is through strict border protection, he said. “This is why we must maintain our ability to protect our borders,” Szijjarto added.

The minister said the meeting also touched on Ukraine’s education law which bans post-primary-level education in minority languages. Szijjarto said he had briefed Pompeo on his Tuesday meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin, where the two ministers had agreed to concentrate on finding a solution to the dispute between Hungary and Ukraine over the law and focus on the future rather than the past. He said the US also supported this approach.

Szijjarto said the US administration had already been “very active” in finding a solution to the dispute. US officials often bring up the issue with their Ukrainian partners, and without Washington’s help, Hungary and Ukraine could not have reached an agreement on Tuesday on convening a bilateral intergovernmental working group in June. Neither would they have agreed to have the Ukrainian education minister invite leaders of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ) for talks, he said. Thanks to the US administration’s help, a proposal on postponing the education law’s enactment until 2023 is now before the Ukrainian parliament and the effort to exempt private schools from it is proceeding well, Szijjarto added.

Szijjarto said he had asked his American colleague to continue supporting the talks between Hungary and Ukraine and to make clear to the Ukrainian government the importance of minority issues and that all countries must observe international law on minority rights irrespective of other geopolitical issues.

The US State Department said in a statement that at the talks the Secretary of State had underlined the importance of an active civil society. He further emphasised the importance of the help that should be given to Ukraine against Russian aggression. Pompeo also underlined the need to support Ukraine’s progress towards NATO and to prevent the spread of Russian influence in central Europe.

The State Department said the parties had agreed on the need to diversify energy supplies in Europe. They also discussed US investments in Hungary and the two countries’ defence cooperation agreement.

Szijjarto is later scheduled to meet White House national security adviser John Bolton.

“We respect sovereignty”

Before the meeting with Pompeo, Szijjarto said that his ongoing official visit to Washington and upcoming talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirm Hungary’s unwillingness “to join the European choir that is hysterically criticising the United States”. Hungary has always refrained from criticising the foreign policy decisions of the United States, the minister told MTI before meeting his US counterpart on Wednesday.

“We have always respected the sovereign foreign policy decisions of other nations and expect others to act similarly in their dealings with us,”

he said.

The visit, he said, is meant to confirm that the two countries make similar approaches to a number of political issues. Both the US administration and the Hungarian government give priority to the security of their citizens. “Both governments have made clear that they oppose illegal migration and have acted as close allies in the global fight against terrorism,” he said.

Hungary and the US are cooperating in reforming the United Nations. They also agree on the need that “the international community should make a balanced and fair approach to Israel.” Both the US administration and the Hungarian government are committed to protecting the Jewish-Christian values and heritage, Szijjarto added.

Szijjarto met US company leaders

Earlier on Wednesday, Szijjarto held talks with US company executives. He told MTI that he had met heads of the American corporation producing flavors and fragrances IFF (International Flavours and Fragrances), which is setting up a global financial services centre in Budapest, to employ 160 highly trained staff. The company, a global market leader, employs as many as 7,300 people around the world and recently bought out an Israeli firm with trade partners in Hungary, he added.

The move will further strengthen Hungary’s position in the service centres market. Including the new unit, Hungary will be home to over 110 service providers employing over 46,000 Hungarians, who are mostly highly skilled and multinlingual people with university degrees, Szijjarto said.

The US-Hungarian business council USHBC, which incorporates 14 US corporations with units in Hungary, will hold a meeting on Wednesday. It is partly thanks to their investments that US firms now form the second largest community of investors in Hungary, employing more than 100,000 people, he said.

The government has so far signed strategic partnerships with 12 US firms and the number will increase on Friday as a result of a Wednesday meeting with ExxonMobil executives. The company operates a service centre in Hungary employing 1,600 people who carry out accounting, auditing and tax advisory duties for the company’s units in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Szijjarto added.

He noted that a strategic cooperation deal with the company will be concluded on Friday, playing a potentially major role in Hungary’s energy diversification. The American gas company has exploration rights at a Black Sea gas field in Romania, and if gas extraction starts there within a few years, Hungary will have a new source of energy supply thanks to the conclusion by Hungarian businesses of transport deals between 2022 and 2037.

Szijjarto also referred to talks with the leaders of Itron, one of the leading smart tech companies in the area of digital energy consumption readings. One of the world’s efficiency leaders, the company has established an R+D centre in Budapest, where it is taking on young Hungarians on a constant basis, he said.

Commenting on his meeting with the head of the IMF’s strategy, policy and review department, the minister said: “The Hungarian economy is in a state of dimensional flux, and the world economy is moving . into an innovative era.” Hungary’s economy is open, and so the global economic transformation has an especially strong bearing on it, he said. But thanks to the government’s economic policymaking and the introduction of Europe’s lowest taxes, Hungary is gaining from the transition to the new world economic era, he insisted, adding that an increasing number of innovation leaders had selected Hungary as a development site for new technology.

Discussions with the IMF also covered the International Financial Corporation (IFC), which will renew its cooperation with Hungary with a view to launching a new asset management fund so the country can capture trade positions in various countries around the world.

Source and photo: MTI

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