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Orbán Advisor Claims New US Ambassador Could Arrive as Early as Spring 2018

By Tom Szigeti // 2018.01.22.

Speaking to pro-Fidesz news site hirado.hu, Jenő Megyesy, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s senior advisor for American affairs, claimed that the new US ambassador to Hungary could arrive in Budapest by late spring or early summer.  

In an interview held on the first anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Megyesy (a Hungarian-American lawyer who is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Friends of Hungary Foundation, which publishes Hungary Today) noted that it is hard to predict exactly when the US Senate will approve the appointment of the ambassadorial candidate, who will first have to face a confirmation hearing.

According to press reports, the president is set to nominate New York businessman David Cornstein to serve as the next ambassador to Hungary. These rumors, which originated with pro-Fidesz Hungarian newspaper Magyar Idők, have not been confirmed by the Trump White House (as the Washington Post noted in a recent article, the Trump administration has an unprecedented level of unfilled ambassadorial posts, “from close allies like Australia to strategically important regional powers like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey”). Before any potential candidate could go before a Senate confirmation hearing, he or she would have to be officially nominated by the White House.

If the rumors currently circling in the Hungarian media prove to be untrue, it would not be the first time: as Heti Válasz notes, in 2009 Magyar Hírlap spread the news that US businessman Robert J. Haris would be then-President Barack Obama’s pick for the ambassadorial post; this speculation came to naught when the White House nominated Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis instead.

In any case, as Megyesy told hirado.hu, the new US ambassador would again be a political appointee, as all ambassadors to Hungary have been for the past 20 years (former Ambassador Colleen Bell notoriously received an intense grilling from prominent US Senator John McCain on her lack of qualifications, calling her “totally unsuitable”). Nevertheless, the prime ministerial advisor claimed that it would “not necessarily be a problem” if the ambassador was not a career diplomat, arguing that a political appointee has an easier time “staying independent from the system” as they tend to be closer to the president. Megyesy added that

I expect that the arrival of the new ambassador will continue to move things in a positive direction and any disagreements that arise will be kept out of the foreground.

In the past year, the US Embassy in Budapest, led by Chargé d’Affaires David Kostelancik (a career diplomat), has been vocally critical of many of the Orbán governments more controversial actions, such as its  “Lex CEU” higher education amendment legislation, which critics say is aimed at making the Central European University’s continued existence in Budapest impossible. Another point of contention has been the government’s  law requiring civil groups  receiving foreign donations above a certain threshold to register as organizations funded from abroad. Responding to the legislation, the US government expressed concern, writing that the law “unfairly burdens and targets Hungarian civil society, which is working to fight corruption and protect civil liberties.” In addition, the State Department expressed its view that the NGO legislation is “another step away from Hungary’s commitments to uphold the principles and values that are central to the EU and NATO.”

Kostelancik has also been openly critical of the state of press freedom in Hungary, and in a speech last year described what he called “negative trends in the sphere of press freedom in Hungary.” Later, a US plan for a grant to provide financial support for “objective” media in Hungary was tightly connected to him. Kostelancik’s comments, in turn, generated an extremely heated reaction from the ruling Fidesz-KDNP government, whose representatives called the Chargé in for consultations with the Hungarian Foreign Ministry.

Megyesy was unable to say when (or whether) Orbán would visit Trump in Washington. He then downplayed the significance of any potential visit, arguing that bilateral meetings were more important when the two sides have an important subject or disagreement to discuss, and that right now this was not the case in US-Hungary relations.

While many Hungarian government officials, particularly Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, have been effusive in their praise of Trump, others, such as President of the Republic János Áder, have criticized the American leader for his plans to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Via MTI, Hungary Matters, valasz.hu, and the Washington Post

Image via Bocskai Rádió

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