Hungary must make itself relevant in the United States, László Szabó, Hungary’s new Ambassador to Washington, who took up his post in the capital of the United States a few days ago, pointed out in his interview given to the Hungarian news agency MTI.

Mr Szabó does not only love the United States, but is also thoroughly acquainted with it. As the HR Director of the US pharmaceutical giant Ely Lilly, he worked in the State of Indiana for several years. As Parliamentary State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, he conducted regular meetings and consultations and concluded agreements with the most important players of the US economy. As he told MTI, we may and we must improve the quality of political relations between the two countries based on the foundations of the achievements of Hungarian-US economic relations.

In answer to MTI’s question as to whether the fact that he was primarily concerned with economic diplomacy in recent years means that Hungarian diplomacy will now concentrate more on its economic mission in the United States, Mr Szabó highlighted: his mission is complex, but it is a fact that – in the wake of the reconsideration of the priorities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade – it will be possible to significantly improve political relations based on the foundations of economic relations which have become truly successful. The Ambassador pointed out: „Hungarian-US bilateral economic relations are improving extremely well and dynamically, and while the annual turnover of trade is already in excess of five billion dollars and trade between the two countries has increased by 5 per cent also this year, there are still opportunities yet to be explored and exploited”. He added: „we are on the right track, but we must now reinforce political relations under any circumstances”.

Upon describing bilateral political relations, Mr Szabó pointed out that during the eight years of the Obama administration „there were major ideological clashes” between Washington and Budapest, and in his view „an artificially induced political situation evolved between the two countries”. This, however, he stressed, „appears to be changing significantly” with the entry into office of the Trump administration.

“The Trump administration is not afraid to say what it thinks, and this offers to bring about a very fresh, new spiritual approach also in bilateral relations. The Hungarian Government has represented the interests of the Hungarian nation very openly since 2010, and it is good to see that America, too, now openly states: also for the American people America comes first, the same way as for the Hungarian people Hungary comes first. We have nothing to be ashamed of regarding that sentiment”, Mr Szabó stated his opinion.

In answer to MTI’s question as to whether Hungarian-US relations are only changing seemingly, or are changing actually, the Ambassador said that real changes take time. „The vast majority of the staff members of the US State Department where tens of thousands of people work still have ties to the Obama administration, but we sincerely hope that this will change, and also in the State Department we will have more and more friends. Staff members who appreciate that improving Hungarian-US and V4-US relations are a value also for America”, the Ambassador stressed. „We must make ourselves relevant to America, we must state loud and clear why good relations with Hungary are important”, he pointed out. In answer to the question of what arguments he would cite, Mr Szabó highlighted: at this point in time, emphasising the already existing economic achievements is the key priority, facts such as that there are 1,700 American businesses operating in Hungary which employ almost 100 thousand people, that there are US investments worth more than USD 18 billion in Hungary, and that the United States is Hungary’s second most important partner.

“But we must also make it clear that having now assumed the Presidency of the V4 country group, we do pay attention to the energy policy of the United States, and in particular to how Washington is able to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe. We must achieve that they reckon with us, too, as a potential market”, Mr Szabó stressed. He added: Hungary sincerely hopes that the gas terminal planned to be erected on the Island of Krk in Croatia will be built – to which Zagreb committed itself – and the interconnectors will likewise be built between Croatia and Hungary and between Romania and Hungary, too. As a result, Hungary will have access to energy also from US sources, „and we shall be less dependent on Russian gas”, he pointed out. The Ambassador added that Russian gas will remain important for Hungary also in the long run, but if there is a competitor and there is a healthy price competition, it will be beneficial for the Hungarian people as well.

Mr Szabó told MTI: they recently had „a most useful meeting” about this with the energy division of the US Department of State. „They are turning towards Central-Europe with great interest”, he said.

Mr Szabó described US President Donald Trump’s speech delivered in Warsaw – which indicated that US foreign policy will intend to pay more attention to Central-Europe than before – as significant. „We share the same views on a great many things”, he said.

The Ambassador stressed the importance of Hungarian-US security policy cooperation in the interview given to MTI. „We are very a serious partner, and Hungary has already proved this. For instance, by virtue of the fact that we are one of the 27 states which contribute to the fight against the terrorist organisation called Islamic State with troops on the ground”, he stressed. He mentioned the Hungarian contingent serving in the city of Erbil in Iraq – which will be enlarged from 150 to 200 persons in the wake of a decision adopted by the Hungarian Parliament in July – and the Hungarian presence in Kosovo and in the Baltic region. „We are present in NATO operations with almost a thousand persons, and this is remarkable from such as a small country as ours. The Americans, too, appreciate this”, Mr Szabó pointed out.

(Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister/MTI)