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"Diplomacy Is No Translation Software" – Interview With Hungary's New Ambassador To Washington

By Hungary Today // 2015.01.31.

Relations with the United States must again take a turn towards dialogue, understading and cooperation, Hungary’s new ambassador to Washington Réka Szemerkényi has said in an interview with the weekly Heti Válasz.
– Where you worried for a moment that you might not receive an agrément from the Americans?
– Why would I have been worried? The procedure unfolded according to the routine. Moreover, if we count the days strictly, I even received the agrément earlier than usual, meaning that pieces of news claiming that it was held back were presumably based on a misunderstanding. Luckily nobody, not even Hungarian left-wing experts and the media,  disputed my appointment. American-Hungarian relations are highly important with regard to enforcing the Hungarian interest on the long run, but in the present situation I regard this commission to be especially important. Relations have to return to the framework of balanced, mutually beneficial cooperation.
– Will the emphasis of your work be on building economic relations or will the highlight be on traditional diplomacy with the American party?
– It can only be applauded that economic diplomacy has become a major area for Hungarian foreign policy too – this development is a “translation” of a change on the international scene to diplomacy, because the importance of economic relations is on the increase since the end of the Cold War. However, this cannot be to the detriment of traditional diplomacy. Understandably, it is impossible to establish economic cooperation without trust, and trust does not come out of thin air.
– It can come from exactly there, too: if we were to buy US military helicopter for hundreds of billions of forints, we’d immediately turn in to a marvellous democracy, am I not right?
– The trust stemming only from a good business deal would not be real. We have a good network of relations in the field of diplomacy, our economic cooperation is also working well, and acquiring helicopters is an independent decision, in which the best offer has to be accepted.
– Could American shale gas be the solution [to diversifying sources of Hungary’s natural gas]?
– At least five or six years is needed for shale gas to begin heading towards world markets, because no terminals exist to liquify it yet. While not a molecule of American shale gas has arrived to Europe yet, it news has already had a beneficial influence on gas prices. During the previous four years, one of the important elements of the Visegrád cooperation was that we jointly stood up for the ban on exporting US shale gas to be lifted, in order to stimulate competition and diversity. This is only one example that Hungarian and US interests could strengthen each other. Strengthening relations is in our strategic interest.
– We’ve suddenly become important becuase of the developments in the Ukraine, no?
– This may partly b the case, but it is nevertheles apparent that even in the mid-term, Euro-Atlantic relations could come under a strain so strong, primarily from China and the Arab world, that strengthening transatlatic ties is the common interest of both of us. For this reason, I think it is also important with regard to managing external pressures, which I believe will be perceivable within ten years, for us to strive to reinforce trust and resolve disputed issues. On the international scene, changes are under way which could determine our life in Hungary for the next 50-100 years to come. These are genuine, long-term interests in favour of strengthening Euro-Atlantic cooperation, for both the US and Hungary.
– How can interests be coordinated if, for example, the Americans come out well from European sanctions against Russia, but Europe itself is left disadvantaged?
– People who come to this conclusion fail to put many facts in the right place of this great puzzle. It was realistic to maintain good relations with Russia until the war broke out. When civilians die and separatists acquire arms, however, it is difficult to say “but cooperation is important”. Sanctions also had an adverse impact on th US. One of the most sensitive sanctions, for example, is the ban on selling deep-sea hydrocarbon exploitation technology. This is a type of technology the US possesses but its European allies do not. It has been spelled out that energy importa agreements canot be affected by sanctions, meaning that Washington respects Hungarian and Central European interests. Of course, Russian counter-sanctions have a disadvantageous effect on the Hungarian economy, but they afflict similarly on the Polish economy too. We too must take our part in steering the conflict between Ukraine and Russia towards the negotiation table. Sanctions serve this objective well, while of course it is clear that they will not solve the crisis.
– If Viktor Orbán brands opposition NGOs the agents of alien powers, it will always be understood as a sign that Hungary is undergoing “Putinisation”. Do you believe domestic politics will be adjusted to avoid the unnecessary instigation of international partners?
– Hungary is ruled by law. These are cases in which a legal procedure will reveal whether those in question broke the law or not. If they did, it will need to have consequence – if this was not the case, similarly so. These issues should have nothing to do with our network of strategic relations.
– It wouldn’t, if Hungarian politics wouldn’t send out this message from the highest levels.
– And American politics. But this is the core of the negative spiral we are trying to brake: this is why such questions become exempt from the normal framework of relations.
Excerpt from an interview by András Stumpf, published in the 29 January 2015 edition of the weekly Heti Válasz