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Cornstein: Big Difference between Obama and Trump Administrations in Treatment of Hungary

Fanni Kaszás 2020.10.16.

David B. Cornstein, the US Ambassador to Hungary, is concluding his service in the country effective November 1st. The outgoing American ambassador talked to leftist daily Népszava in an interview about American-Hungarian relations, his plans, his activities in Hungary, illiberalism, and also about how realistic it is for Trump to visit the country and when it could happen.

According to Ambassador Cornstein, there was a big difference between the way the Obama administration treated Hungary and the way the Trump government has. “My number one goal was to make contacts, because before that the relationship was almost hostile, which I didn’t agree with at all, and of course President Trump didn’t. We wanted to change that.” Cornstein said it worked out, and “the situation is so much better than when I got here.”

Even when he arrived, he stated that one of his main goals would be to keep Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. However, this failed, and the university eventually moved to Vienna. The ambassador said he felt terrible about the university’s decision. “For our part, we have tried to advance the agreement, but unfortunately we have not succeeded. As an ambassador, just like in business, one has goals and dreams, but one has to take into account that some of his dreams will then be regretted.”

Among other plans, he mentioned that there are still areas where he would like to see change, such as easing Hungary’s dependence on Russian energy sources. With the opening of the port on the island of Krk, liquefied natural gas (LNG) can start to arrive to Hungary, which could replace 10-15% of the volume received from Russia so far. Cornstein said he would also like the situation between Hungary and Ukraine to improve a bit so that they can work with NATO more easily.

Speaking about Russian-Hungarian and American-Hungarian relations, he said he believes that although Russia is geographically closer to Hungary and the country depends on Russian energy supplies, Hungarians know Russia well and they know who the Russian’s allies are. In the same way, they also know that the United States is an old friend and an ally of Hungary in NATO.

There is no need for America to tell the Hungarians who the Russians are. They still remember well what it was like here under communism.

According to the ambassador, Hungarians are more inclined to turn to the West.

Cornstein said that the next ambassador to Budapest will be nominated by the winner of the election and must be approved by the senate before coming to Budapest, so there is no nominee yet. However, he would tell the person that the situation is much better now than when he got here. The ambassador said that the defense cooperation between the two countries is good, and “we are acting together in the United Nations, in the Middle East, in support of Israel.” He added that when he handed over his resignation letter to President Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, the president said during the conversation, “Let’s call Viktor! It turned out he was in his kitchen. Things like that don’t just happen among state leaders.”

Finally, the ambassador also talked about when President Trump could visit Hungary. If he is re-elected in the upcoming US election, Cornstein said he will “come to Hungary in his second term. He has told me many times that he loves the country, its people, and the government here, which is great for bilateral relations.”

featured photo: Vivien Cher Benko/MTI/Miniszterelnöki Sajtóiroda