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PM denies neutrality allegations

January 31st, 2019

A left-wing analyst finds it absurd to imagine that Hungary is considering leaving NATO, but accuses the government of intending to ‘ally itself ‘with Russia and China.

Átlátszó, a liberal watchdog website and the Wall Street Journal published an article by Anita Kőműves (and Drin Hinshaw for the American version) quoting unnamed US diplomats who alleged that PM Orbán told the US Ambassador to Budapest that he wants Hungary to be ‘neutral, like Austria’. They also quote aides to the PM who said Hungary wants to remain a NATO member. Behind the controversy, they suggest, lies Hungary’s decision to defer its signature of the new bilateral US-Hungarian Defence Cooperation Agreement. The Hungarian press reports that the parliamentary majority objected to the clause in the draft that would put US servicemen who commit crimes in Hungary under American, rather than Hungarian jurisdiction. The Prime Minister told the official news agency MTI that Hungary continues to be and will remain an ally of the United States and a NATO member country. In that spirit, Mr Orbán said, it is preparing to receive US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Budapest. The Secretary is expected to arrive in Budapest in mid-February.

In Népszava, Gábor Horváth writes that ‘not a single word should be wasted on a discussion about formal neutrality’, for the probability of Hungary withdrawing from NATO is zero. Nevertheless, he believes that the Prime Minister did talk about neutrality with the American ambassador and thinks that the kind of neutrality the Prime Minister has in mind ‘is alliance with Russia and China’. He finds the government’s reticence to sign the Defence Cooperation Agreement strange, since the Pentagon has played a mitigating role in Washington over criticism of Budapest, arguing that Hungary is a staunch ally. In another remark, Horváth suggests that the State Department will become more openly critical of the Hungarian government after the forthcoming departure of Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia Wes Mitchell who has advocated a friendly attitude towards Hungary. Horváth thinks Mitchell’s recipe hasn’t worked and predicts a hardening attitude on the part of the State Department.

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