Opinions about the Trump – Orban meeting
According to four current and former U.S. officials familiar with internal talks, Mr Orban is expected to meet with President Donald Trump in mid-May, though the exact dates have not been confirmed. Such a visit would build on other outreach by the Trump administration in recent months, including a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Budapest in February. Is 'Team Trump' trying to pull Hungary back from its cozy relationship with Moscow and Beijing?
According to foreignpolicy.com, the visit would fall in line with the Trump administration’s strategy of addressing great-power competition, aiming to roll back Chinese and Russian influence in Europe.
Pompeo cast the Trump administration as a critical ally for the region and urged Hungary and its neighbors to rebuff warmer relationships with Russia and economic deals with China.
“Too often in the recent past, the United States was absent from Central Europe,” Pompeo said in a speech then. “That’s unacceptable. Our rivals filled those vacuums.”
Viktor Orban has consolidated power in Hungary and while his country is a member of the European Union and NATO, he has fostered a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and courted China for billion-dollar infrastructure investment deals as part of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
The Hungarian leader just traveled to Beijing last week to attend the investment forum, where he met with the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. During the talks, the prime minister said Hungary was ready to cooperate further with the Belt and Road Initiative and would reject “all outside ideological pressure.”
The Trump administration has dialed back Washington’s criticism of Mr Orban, experts and former officials say, opting instead to engage his government in a bid to bring him back fully into the Western fold.
A Trump-Orban visit would be a boon for the Hungarian leader, said Molly Montgomery, a former U.S. diplomat who worked on European issues in Vice President Mike Pence’s office before leaving government.
It seems this meeting rewards Orban’s political behavior and “encourages Hungary to continue to play China, Russia, and the United States against each other,” said Montgomery, now with the Albright Stonebridge Group, a Washington-based consulting firm.
Andras Simonyi, a former senior Hungarian diplomat who in the past worked under Orban, said a meeting could be productive, as long as Trump provides “some tough love” for Orban.
“At the end of the day, America must help Hungary pull back into the Western camp.” said Simonyi, who was Hungary’s ambassador to Washington from 2002 to 2007.
The Obama administration froze top-level engagement with Hungarian counterparts and barred from entering the United States six Hungarians linked to the government.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks to Chinese President
Xi Jinping during a meeting on April 25.
The relationship changed under Trump, led by his former top State Department envoy on Europe, A. Wess Mitchell. Mitchell and other top administration officials saw the reprimands as counterproductive, particularly as Washington grappled with growing Chinese and Russian influence in Central Europe.
Budapest has now signaled that it would be receptive to reduce its dependence on Russia for natural gas, a key U.S. priority. Also last month, Washington and Budapest signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement on the sidelines of events marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of NATO.
As a Hungarian journalist foreign relations expert pointed out, with U.S. policy in the region focused on defense and energy, there are positive signs that Mitchell’s strategy has started to take root in Hungary.