Foreign Minister Szijjártó goes to Washington, and silence follows

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó just returned from a three-day visit to Washington where he was to meet Wess Mitchell, the new assistant secretary of state in charge of European and Eurasian Affairs. Mitchell is the successor to Victoria Nuland, whom Magyar Idők called, less than a week ago, the “gravedigger of Hungary.”

Mitchell’s appointment was finalized only in October 2017, but the Hungarian government began assessing its possible chances with Mitchell as soon as his name emerged as a potential assistant secretary. The government’s reaction was mixed. On the one hand, it was pleased that Mitchell, before accepting the State Department post, had been the president of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), the American think tank that concentrates exclusively on East-Central Europe. Therefore he should be more familiar with the region and hence with Hungarian affairs. However, Index noted at the time that “one of the main research fields of [CEPA] is Russian propaganda, disinformation and the fight against it, which is not a priority for the Hungarian government.” I would call this a gross understatement. In fact, the Hungarian government does a superb job of misinforming the public and gives free rein to Russian disinformation on the pages of the newspapers and internet sites it supports.

Whatever misgivings Viktor Orbán and his foreign policy experts originally had, they eventually decided that Mitchell’s appointment “could mean the beginning of a new chapter in Hungarian-American political relations.” Under the previous administration Hungary “had to face several instances of undue criticism and lack of understanding.” The Hungarian Foreign Ministry hoped that, with the appointment of Mitchell, “now is the best opportunity” to establish close diplomatic relations.

Szijjártó arrived in Washington on January 15 to conduct two days of negotiations, which began on January 16 with a conversation with Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell, followed by meetings with two White House officials –Jason Greenblatt, assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations, and Fiona Hill, special assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council. Greenblatt, prior to his Washington job, was chief legal officer to Donald Trump and The Trump Organization. Hill is a highly regarded Russia expert from the Brookings Institution, who most likely is critical of the Orbán government’s Russia policy and Viktor Orbán’s personal relations with Vladimir Putin.

Szijjártó anticipated that his encounter with Mitchell would “take the form of a long discussion.” One of the topics, I’m sure, was the U.S. State Department’s  “funding opportunity” for support of “objective media in Hungary.” Szijjártó noted that “the Hungarian government views this plan as interference in Hungary’s domestic affairs.”

No one has any idea how long the conversation between Mitchell and Szijjártó lasted because, since his meetings with the assistant secretary and the two White House officials, Szijjártó has said nothing about the encounters. Not one word. Certain Hungarian news outlets reported earlier that Szijjártó, in addition to having discussions on U.S.-Hungarian relations, was supposed to prepare Viktor Orbán’s visit to the United States in February. As Klub Rádió’s “Tények, Vélemények” (Facts, Opinions) put it, “the Hungarian prime minister is planning to attend the National Prayer Breakfast.” This annual event, which is held at the Washington Hilton, is a gathering of 3,000-3,500 invited guests from 100 countries. Therefore, it is immaterial what Viktor Orbán “is planning.” The question is whether he has an invitation or not. By the way, this event is not organized by the White House. The president is just one of the invitees.

The only record so far of the meeting between Szijjártó and Mitchell is a photograph taken of the two men shaking hands, but it doesn’t look as if they were standing in the State Department. Klub Rádió’s guess is that the photo was taken at the Hungarian Embassy, a rather strange arrangement if true.

In any event, Szijjártó’s silence indicates to me that wherever this important meeting took place, it was not a success, that the anticipated breakthrough didn’t materialize. The usual explanation for the still icy relations between the two countries is that the holdover diplomats from the Obama administration continue to run the show in the State Department. The hope in Budapest is that soon enough Donald Trump’s people will be in charge and that they will appreciate the American president’s kindred soul in Europe. But Orbán’s diplomats are overlooking a major stumbling block: the worrisomely close relationship between Putin’s Russia and Orbán’s Hungary, which, given the climate in the United States, is not the best recommendation for closer ties with the Orbán regime.

MTI /EPA/ Photo: Georgi Licovszki

On the very day of Szijjártó’s negotiations in the United States, Magyar Idők ran an article on its front page with the following headline: “Lavrov: America is not doing any favor to the world.” Lavrov, according to the article, accused the United States of using illegitimate means to maintain its waning supremacy in a multi-polar world. Not the best way of endearing oneself to the United States, claimed the commentator from Népszava. This editorial, I’m afraid, is a bit naïve. Diplomats of the State Department don’t need the Hungarian government’s propaganda machinery to be aware of the state of Russian-Hungarian relations. They are fully cognizant of them and find them troubling. Mátyás Eörsi, former undersecretary of foreign affairs and former leader of the ALDE-Pace Group in the Council of Europe, wrote an excellent opinion piece in HVG about the Orbán administration’s total incomprehension of the futility of trying to build a close relationship with the United States under the present circumstances.

I agree. Orbán will have to choose: either Putin’s Russia or the United States. There is no middle ground now. I also suspect that as the investigation of Russian involvement in the U.S. election process unfolds, more suspicion will be focused on Hungary as a client state and Viktor Orbán as a Trojan horse. These are not the best recommendations in Washington today or in the foreseeable future.

In recent days the Orbán government welcomed a letter written on January 11 by ten extremely conservative members of Congress addressed to Secretary of State Tillerson, urging him “to strengthen the strategic cooperation between the United States and Hungary,” claiming common threats from an unnamed source. They suggest “high-level meetings between the leaders of [the] two countries in order to build mutual trust.” The leader of the group, Andy Harris, must have received word from Connie Mack III, Orbán’s lobbyist in Washington, that one of Viktor Orbán’s greatest desires is to be invited to the Oval Office. At this point we don’t even know whether he will be one of the 3,000-3,500 invitees at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 8.

January 19, 2018
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Guest

Réka Szemerkényi, Executive Vice President of CEPA robbed any credibilty of this institution. I think she is the absolute Trojan horse there.

Átal Karcsi
Guest

The American intelligence community must have long ago concluded that Orban is controlled by Putin via

(1) some kind of classic kompromat (perhaps more than one piece);
(2) several corrupt joint ventures (MET AG, Paks 2 and a few other deals);
(3) total ideological alignment (Orban’s firm personal belief in Alexander Dugin’s ideas) and regular exchange of know-how (how to target NGOs, how to vilify an American citizen, ie. Soros, how to create and spread fake news about the opposition).

Observer
Guest

Add smaller projects like the Budapest subway cars “renovation” won by the Russian Vagontransmash.

Member

One has to pay back even the Russian Banks (especially one of Putin’s fovorite) for the moneys lost when MALÉV went into bankruptcy.

Ferenc
Guest

2018.Jan.16, kormany.hu:
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó arrived in Washington on Monday afternoon, and prior to his two days of negotiations stressed: “This could mean the beginning of a new chapter in Hungarian-American political relations.” [bold marking mine]
The above headed a pretty long article, full of hopes and wishes.
Till today, as Eva noted, not one letter more about anything between HU and US on kormany.hu…

Member

Miracles rarely happen, but when they do, usually there is a big whoopty do!

Istvan
Guest
From day to day our foreign policy changes, depending on Trump’s mood. For the moment Russia is trying to work with both the Assad government and Turkey to force US forces out of Syria and take out Kurdish controlled areas. The US has told them to go to hell and Sec of State Tillerson said US troops will be there for years to come. Russia the good guys are gone for this week in Trump’s mind. The good guy Putin could be back next week when Trump wakes up wondering why the hell we are spending billions on arming the Kurds who live in a “shit hole.” We have no coherent foreign policy, but we do have a big military and a large number of intercontinental missiles with nukes on them. I suspect Orban is as baffled by all of this as many US citizens are. If Orban gets invited to the prayer breakfast and it has another featured speaker like Darrell Waltrip a stock car racer, or Mark Burnett the TV producer of supposed reality shows like the Survivor that have no resemblance to reality, would Orban even know who they are? The National Prayer Breakfast is an evangelical… Read more »
Istvan
Guest

Eva I would also suggest that you digest the new 2018 United States Defense Strategy an unclassified version of which can be downloaded here https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1419045/dod-official-national-defense-strategy-will-rebuild-dominance-enhance-deterrence/ it has great relevance for your topic today. Probably the most fascinating aspect of this document is the presentation of Russia and China as “revisionist powers.” I found this ambiguous characterization as strange, because it is totally unclear whether we are as a nation are declaring both China and Russia as fundamentally market driven nation states with a lack of democratic structures, in fact with authoritarian capitalist governments, or something different altogether more like fascist corporatism.

In any case it is highly unlikely President Trump even read the unclassified summary, or comprehends this document. Let alone digested the more detailed classified version of the document. It clearly contradicts Trump, Bannon, and Flynn’s theory that Russia could be pitted against China and effectively be our strategic friend. As I said for Trump any strategy document is meaningless because his vision changes based on which TV news program he watched last. We have an very mentally ill man at the helm and it is indeed very scary.

Aida
Guest

And that is why the highest level diplomatic opening by Macron to the U.K. is so significant. The EU believes in the strategic importance of not allowing the U.K. to continue its downward spiral into a world dominated by Trump, Putin and other enemies of our freedoms and security. Brexit and the election of Trump are handmaidens. The Macron victory is a serious setback to them as would be a new German Chancelor with more credibility than Merkel.

Ferenc
Guest

“aimed at restoring America’s competitive military advantage to deter Russia and China from challenging the US, its allies or seeking to overturn the international order that has served so well since the end of World War II.”
For me as a non-military person, this is a quite annoying introduction, to more of the same in the full text. US military boys going for a military monopoly game, over the heads and hearts of all people living on our globe.
Also don’t understand why China is singled out together with Russia, for me the two most aggressive states are the US and Russia. Apart from Tibet (1951/59, and occupied till now) and Tiananmen Square (1989) don’t come to my mind any military aggression by China. And note both mentioned cases are ‘within’ the borders of China.

Istvan
Guest
Well coming out of the US military I would clearly see the world differently Ferenc. In general even independent think tanks like Rand Corp see China as the greater threat to US global power than Russia. For those who like novels related to that theme I would recommend Ghost Fleet which is about US war with China on a non-nuclear level. There is a retired officer’s book club which I belong to that collectively read and discussed that novel. There is very clearly within our military many who believed a tactical alliance with Russia to isolate and eventually crush China was the correct move to make. General Flynn was not alone in that thinking, nor was Trump. My biggest problem with the United States new defense strategy isn’t it’s general theme of global dominance which to be honest I share. It is that we have a lack of understanding what we are asking US soliders to fight and die against, a revionist power? Really? Eva unfortunately presents to her bilingual Hungarian audience a vision of US foreign policy that flows very much from a liberal civilian perspective. In general the United States military believes in global hegemony as do I.… Read more »
wrfree
Guest
Quote by LeCarre the spymaster: ‘ I don’t know whether it’s age or maturity, but I certainly find myself committed more and more to the looser forms of Western democracy at any price’. In retrospect he should rue what he wished for especially considering his understanding and presentation of East European countries. Countries as well as ‘expert’ individuals have their biases. Sometimes those who are creative become blind to other creators who also run with their ideas. It appears it will be very difficult now to establish ‘mutual trust’ between a democratic bastion and a illiberal outpost on the edge of the ‘far flung’ Russian ’empire’. Perhaps the most troubling aspect in relations is a case of a great and magnified case of zapadophobia. Magyarorszag seems to have received the infection from Fidesz. But they just brought out the latent aspects existing anyway and for good measure added their own ‘secret sauce. Consorting with the Putin gang had to give it a more powerful punch. Madeline Albright’s term for countries like Orban’s is quite fitting here alluding to democratic erosion. The US now in essence looks at and now will try to deal with a customized Putin ‘petri dish’. They… Read more »
Aida
Guest

The discussion following LeCarre’s quotation is interesting, however since the statement is either meaningless or it is a toungue in cheek windup the discussion is pretty well otiose. Did the author stop at the quoted sentence or is there more? What is the context?

Guest

Here’s the long interview with le Carré in 1977:
http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/03/21/specials/lecarre-interrogation.html

I haven’t read it yet completely but got the first surprise already:
having a largely German-oriented education …
The quote on democracy is from the last paragraph of the intervies – and then he goes on about Russia!
Don’t forget it was 1977 …

Aida
Guest

Thanks for taking the trouble

Observer
Guest

Let me put my vote for the “Western democracy at any price”.
Capitalism is good primarily for its empowering of the masses to do what we call today business, and democracies have proven to be economically superior, definitely so in the medium and longer terms. But I find the European politicians busying themselves with secondary issues or filibustering their terms to avoid grabbing the bull by the horns.

Ferenc
Guest

Leaves open the question: which system / ‘-ism’ will proof to be able to make/keep all and everything environmentally sustainable…

wrfree
Guest

Observer….

Considering Le Carre’s statement I’d wonder how he’d frame that to himself in today’s context of Magyarorszag’s political evolution which purports to follow ‘Western’ democracy but now has a very very ‘Eastern’ tinge. It’s like dusted up feel-good communism but only the pants and shirts have changed. Will we see perhaps the divat becoming black and brown?

It would be quite surprising to see him agreeing to the situation. I’m wondering if he ever managed though to envisage what we are seeing now in Eastern Europe. Of all the blood, sweat and tears spent by millions and millions and for what we see now? From this keen, sensitive and careful watchers of Europe sure need to compose themselves when they think on their thoughts towards the future of a shaky not altogether there continent.

Guest

Has this been mentioned already?
https://www.politico.eu/article/hungarian-minister-we-prefer-trump-team-over-obama-team/
Szijarto talks about:
You know, Europe’s supposed to be a Christian continent.
Really?

PS and a bit OT:
What European magazines think about Trump – in cover pictures:
https://www.politico.eu/article/donald-trump-media-7-european-magazine-covers-to-get-a-rise-out-of-trump/
Scroll down to the last one …

bimbi
Guest

wolfi7777, 3:08 p.m.

“You know, Europe’s supposed to be a Christian continent.”

With this Peterke is about 1000 years behind the times. No, Peterke, it isn’t. Please leave your fairy-tale virgin birth beliefs behind in the privacy of your own home.

And, thanks, don’t make “suppositions” about MY Europe.

Member

The viktor can come to Washington, D.C., any time and he can even get in the White House. It is open from 7:30AM to 11:30 AM Tuesday to Thursday and 7:30AM to 1:30 PM on Friday and Saturday, except national holidays. Foreign citizent have to ask to go on the tour through their embassies. In the case of the viktor, since he is a government employee, the Hungarian Ambassador has to disclose, that the viktor is an agent of a foreighn country. Picture ID is required to be shown at the gate.
(I hope I was able to help. Anyone who knows people at the foreign ministry in Budapest, please tell them the same information, it seems that they are are not privy to it.)

wrfree
Guest
From the Magyar embassy… ‘Foreign Minister Szijjártó spoke at length about and highlighted five critical challenges the European Union currently faces: the global fight against terrorism; the ongoing migration crisis; the war in Ukraine; European energy security; and the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU (Brexit) Mr. Szijjarto in his statement consciously appears to have left off a few other challenging issues. The wayward attitude on media and press freedom, academic freedom, rule of law, the erosion of checks and balances, rampant corruption at the highest levels, the deepening polarization between opposing views, the hateful prejudice, the arrogance in wielding power, the lackadaisical concern for ethics and adherence to true democratic norms. And last but not least the ‘moral bent’ seems to be missing. It’s been awol for quite awhile. Who knows when it will return? Even the Church cannot find it. Mr. Szijjarto’s comfort zone definitely is ‘business’ or ‘economics’. But everything cannot be settled on that to hold a successful society together. There are other more important principles to base a ‘good’ society on that indeed effect everything good , like ‘economics’ emanating from it. Rejecting objective truth and propagandizing civil communication serves not a democratic… Read more »
bimbi
Guest

There is a thoughtful opinion essay in the Guardian today entitled “How Democracies Die” by two Harvard professors of government in which Hungary is listed among those states in which elected leaders have subverted democratic institutions.
“On the electoral road… . …there are no tanks in the streets. Constitutions and other nominally democratic institutions remain in place. People still vote. Elected autocrats maintain a veneer of democracy while eviscerating its substance. Many government efforts to subvert democracy are “legal”, in the sense that they are approved by the legislature or accepted by the courts. They may even be portrayed as efforts to improve democracy – making the judiciary more efficient, combating corruption or cleaning up the electoral process.”
Although the article is primarily concerned with the current US predicament, the authors see the processes that are on-going elsewhere – including Hungary.
Take a look:
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2018/jan/21/this-is-how-democracies-die
Hungary is not alone in its struggle against total take-over by an authoritarian regime. Elég volt!

Member

I wonder if Mr. Szijjartó’s meetings culminated in or pertained to the newly nominated U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, David Cornstein:

Read more at: https://dailynewshungary.com/possible-next-american-ambassador-budapest-hungarian-ancestors/

Ferenc
Guest

Julia, just in case you missed my comment elsewhere, herewith I offer you again, as (other) food for (independent) thought, to check comparisons for V4 countries over some years:
https://infogr.am/ferenc__
https://infogr.am/ferenc_2

PS: I made those comparisons originally for myself, as I sensed “valami nem stimme” (something’s not right) with the view pushed by the HU government about their own “achievements.”
Put all up on infogr.am, as they might be helpful to others…

Member

Ferenc, I will look at this. I did not miss it elsewhere, simply have not had time to reply. Wishing you well.