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Orban Endangers Hungary’s Status as an Ally, U.S. Diplomat Says

Prime Minister Viktor Orban is jeopardizing Hungary’s position as a trusted NATO ally, the U.S. ambassador to Budapest warned on Thursday, with “its close and expanding relationship with Russia,” and with “dangerously unhinged anti-American messaging” in state-controlled media.

The ambassador, David Pressman, has for months criticized Mr. Orban for effectively siding with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russa over the war in Ukraine, but his latest remarks sharply ratcheted up tensions and indicated that trust in Hungary among NATO allies had collapsed.

Hungary is “an ally that behaves unlike any other” and is “alone on the defining issue of European security of the last quarter century, Russia’s war in Ukraine,” Mr. Pressman said in a speech in Budapest marking the 25th anniversary of Hungary’s admission to the Western military alliance.

“We will have to decide how best to protect our security interests, which, as allies, should be our collective security interests,” he added.

The speech followed a visit last week by Mr. Orban, a darling of MAGA Republicans in the United States, to Donald J. Trump at the former president’s home and members-only club in Florida. After their meeting, Mr. Orban claimed in an interview with Hungarian state television that Mr. Trump had outlined to him a “pretty detailed plan” for ending the war in Ukraine that would involve an abrupt halt to United States aid to Russia’s embattled neighbor.

Such a plan closely parallels what Mr. Orban has been advocating for the European Union — a suspension of all financial and military support for Ukraine, and a policy of pushing the government in Kyiv into immediate peace negotiations with Moscow.

That, Mr. Pressman said, “is not a proposal for peace; it is capitulation.”

The ambassador detailed a catalog of complaints of the ways in which Hungary had not lived up to its obligations as an ally. These included what he said was a refusal by Mr. Orban’s government to let American soldiers based in Hungary get license plates for their family cars, in violation of a defense cooperation agreement between the two countries.

“Of course, this speech isn’t about license plates, but this issue is indicative of the current, concerning state of Hungary’s relationship with its allies,” he said. “It is about a government that labels and treats the United States an adversary while making policy choices that increasingly isolate it from friends and allies.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Sweden to abandon generations of nonaligned status and ask to join NATO in 2022, which required unanimous approval by member nations. Hungary and Turkey, the only holdouts, held up Sweden’s accession until this year.

On a visit to Iran last month, Hungary’s increasingly anti-American foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, denounced Mr. Pressman as “the leader of the Hungarian opposition” in an interview with the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

Bashing Mr. Pressman and the Biden administration in general has become a regular feature of Hungary’s relations with Washington, which has frequently accused Mr. Orban of backsliding on democracy and ignoring the concerns of its allies.

“We must take seriously concerns about security issues expressed by allies, not use them as leverage to secure unrelated and parochial political objectives,” Mr. Pressman said at the Central European University in Budapest, an institution that moved most of its teaching to Vienna in neighboring Austria in 2018 under pressure from the Hungarian authorities.

NATO’s 1949 founding treaty includes no mechanism for the expulsion of a member and leaves decisions on whether to join or leave up to each member state. Opinion polls indicate strong support among Hungarians for staying in the alliance, and Mr. Orban has insisted he has no desire to pull out.

Some officials in the Baltic States, among Ukraine’s most fervent supporters, have raised questions about whether Hungary should be forced out of NATO, but American officials and diplomats have never publicly raised that possibility.

Mr. Pressman said that “the legitimate security concerns — shared by Hungary’s 31 Allies — cannot be ignored” but stopped far short of calling for Hungary’s departure.

Responding to repeated Hungarian denunciations of President Biden and Mr. Orban’s fellow E.U. leaders as “warmongers” because of their support for Ukraine, Mr. Pressman said: “The Hungarian policy is based on a fantasy that disarming Ukraine will stop Putin. History shows it would do the reverse.”

While Hungary’s ties with Washington and most European capitals have frayed, the country has cultivated warm relations with not only Russia, on which it relies for supplies of natural gas and help in building a new nuclear power plant, but also a host of other authoritarian countries including Belarus, China and Iran.

Hungary’s ties with Iran and China could undermine the calculation underpinning its combative relations with the Biden administration — that Mr. Trump will win in November and usher in a new era of hostility to Ukraine and friendship with Mr. Orban.

“There’s nobody that’s better, smarter or a better leader than Viktor Orban. He’s fantastic,” Mr. Trump said last week.

Mr. Orban has been equally fulsome in his praise of Mr. Trump. “It is time for another ‘Make America Great Again’ presidency in the United States,” he said last month in his annual state of the nation address in Budapest.

Mr. Pressman insisted that United States policy transcended partisan politics, noting that the Trump administration, too, had taken issue with Hungary’s outreach to Moscow, particularly its decision to allow an obscure Russian financial institution, the International Investment Bank, to open in Budapest with sweeping diplomatic immunity.

Western security officials say that move enabled Russian spying and money laundering. Hungary withdrew its support for the bank after the Biden administration imposed sanctions on it.

“While the Orban government may want to wait out the United States government, the United States will certainly not wait out the Orban administration,” Mr. Pressman said, “While Hungary waits, we will act.”

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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