Hungarian news portal origo.hu published an interview with André Goodfriend, Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States in Budapest. He spoke about the recent ban affair and Hungarian-American relations. We present a shortened version of the interview.
Some think that the visa bans are sanctions levied because of Hungary’s current interior and foreign affairs. Mr. Goodfriend cleared the confusion:
The visa ban has nothing to do with politics, it only addresses the individuals affected. Due to crimes committed, illegal border crossings or corruption charges, there are numerous bans every year. In our case it is the latter, under the 7750 presidential proclamation, restricting corrupt foreign officials and their family members who have inappropriately used public funds in their own countries from gaining entry into the United States.
The ban only has a connection to the Hungarian government’s politics, if it affects its fight against corruption. Under the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act we have to act against corruption cases, and we want to work together with foreign governments on this. However, we do not ask these governments to make a move. It is possible, the ban affair will act as a catalyst of change on the issues of transparency, rule of law or the state of NGOs, but we are observers only in this process. We have an opinion, but we do not intervene.
Regarding the recent talk of corruption in U.S. company Bunge, reported by Magyar Nemzet, Goodfriend gave little, saying that he “does not have any knowledge of these press information, and therefore cannot comment.” The Chargé d’Affaires although added, that it is “not impossible” for American companies to be involved in corruption, adding that it is also important to remember that U.S. companies are under a very strict control, and that includes their foreign subsidiaries.
Goodfriend spoke about a possible loophole in the ban, since many Hungarian news sites speculated that a diplomats would still be able to visit the U.S., despite an existing entry ban:
It is true, that the visa ban only affects personal visits, and not diplomatic missions, but a diplomatic passport in itself is not enough for such a status. It is only a passport type, and does not grant any plus eligibility. […] A diplomatic passport in itself does not overwrite a visa ban.
The Chargé d’Affaires also reacted to charges claiming that the U.S. government is working on overthrowing the Hungarian government. Goodfriend denied the claim, stating that “Hungary’s government was elected in a democratic way, which we respect, and we want to work with this elected government.” Goodfriend also addressed accusations that he and the United States only keeps contacts with opposition NGOs:
This is not true at all. Before coming to Budapest, I had to study the Hungarian language and situation for approximately a year. The goal of the American mission here has been from the start that our diplomats, including me, will get to know the local people and positions. For this we have to keep contact with not just politicians. I should have made contact with non governmental actors, including academics, civilian leaders, journalists. Besides I travel a lot, I try to visit more and more socially relevant events.
It is also not true that I only keep in touch with opposition organization. Recently I visited an event of New Society Salon with Sándor Fazekas, Minister of Agriculture, which is an organization founded by KDNP politicians. I have also met with members of Századvég Foundation, I keep in touch with Magyar Nemzet, Magyar Hírlap, Blikk and HírTV journalists. I also speak to independent and even opposition organizations. We think that independent and non-government funded organizations have an important supervisory role in a democratic state.
Finally, the Chargé d’Affaires commented on the general status of Hungarian-American relations:
The relationship between the two countries has never been stronger. We have differences, of course, but we have dialogue. […] The two countries have a strong relationship with serious common roots. We have several values that both parties call their own, such as independence and individual freedom. The fact that we are in disagreement is only a sign of a mature relationship, where, if we have problems, we are able talk them through.