Europe and Eurasia: Press Availability With Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto

Press Availability

Michael R. Pompeo

Secretary of State

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Budapest, Hungary
February 11, 2019

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Distinguished secretary and minister, distinguished under secretaries, deputy secretaries, dear guests: Heartfelt welcome to all of you at the press conference of Their Excellencies Peter Szijjarto, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Secretary of State Michael Richard Pompeo. First of all, may I ask His Excellency Mr. Peter Szijjarto to deliver his speech.

FOREIGN MINISTER SZIJJARTO: (Via interpreter) Good day to all of you. Heartfelt welcome to all of you and heartfelt welcome to the Secretary of State. It is a true honor for us that seven and a half years after the last visit of the U.S. Secretary of State we can welcome you here in Budapest. And we have to say although we can know that from several sources that the Secretary of State is a man of his words, because when last May I had the honor that I was received by the Secretary in Washington, then at the NATO meeting, following that he said, “Peter, I’ll have to come to you.” And I said, “Yeah, that is not going to depend on us,” and the Secretary is now here in Budapest. Heartfelt welcome, and we are really very happy, and this is an honor, a great honor for us. Also a heartfelt welcome to the representatives of Hungarian international press. Thank you very much for coming to our press conference.

I really do believe that the fact that the minister, the Secretary, is here just showcases (inaudible) started to rebuild the third pillar of U.S.-Hungarian relations, because earlier we rather focused on the economic and the defense pillar of these relations. And now since the Republican administration is in power in the United States, ever since there’s been a rapid improvement or a rebuilding of our political ties as well. Obviously, this is greatly due to the fact that the Government of Hungary and the Donald Trump administration, the U.S. administration, has a similar or same stance in several questions in general politics and specific politics as well.

Now both administrations, both governments are patriotic in terms of their policies where national interest is first; and both administrations, both governments consider it to be one of the first and foremost responsibility of the state to guarantee the safety and security of people – of the people, and this is how we could cooperate in the fight against the global migration pact. We have always been in line with the efforts of the United States to defend their borders, and both governments considers it very important to safeguard the Christian heritage and to support Christian communities worldwide. And together with the United States we just step up in international organizations so that there would be a fair treatment vis-a-vis Israel by the international community, international political community.

We Hungarians, the Hungarian Government, has based our foreign policy on mutual respect, and we think that the world is not going to be a better place if some countries do spend their times by intervening in internal political affairs of other countries or lecturing other countries. Therefore we, based on principles, have extended our veto in the European Union whenever it came to criticism concerning the decisions – political decisions of the United States. For that, we have undergone and we have taken on conflicts and risks as well, but we’re not going to consent in the future as well – or either – that either the European Union or other international organization would criticize the sovereign political decisions of the United States. At the same time, we also carry out a foreign policy which is based on openness and sincerity. So we say the same thing – we say the same things behind the scenes that we say here. So it is easy therefore for us to discuss issues like relations to Russia or the gaining ground of China in other places or also our relations to Russia.

I also said to the Secretary of State that the fate of the 150,000 Hungarians in the Subcarpathians is very important to us. This is a geopolitical issue and we cannot disregard that. We are always going to stand for Hungarians living in the Subcarpathians.

As I also told the Secretary, that whenever we talk about the economic gaining ground of China, then Hungary is responsible for 1.2 percent of the EU-China world trade, and I also said that there is a hypocrisy concerning the cooperation with Russia because there is a lot of criticism on the surface, and below the surface there is a lot of trade between Europe and Russia in billions of euros.

But I also told the Secretary that the U.S. can rely on Hungary as a reliable defense ally, and we are very proud of the fact that our 494 strong contingent serving and our NATO umbrella in Kosovo and Afghanistan, we are going to extend that with 108 personnel, and we are also happy and proud that we can participate in the international counterterrorism coalition led by the United States. And we’re also proud of the fact that this year, we can take part in the air policing of the Baltic states.

I’d like to announce a very significant improvement of progress, the defense cooperation agreement between the U.S. and Hungary. This agreement was completed in 1997. The world has changed ever since. There are tremendous new challenges, security threats. Therefore, we agreed that it was just due time to modernize this agreement. And last Friday, we managed to conclude these talks. We managed to finalize the text. We have – we agreed upon that text. Therefore, next week, the defense committee of the Hungarian parliament is going to discuss that.

I would also like to inform you about the fact that very important talks are ongoing concerning increasing and improving the security of the country. I’m talking about defense procurement next week and the weeks after. We are going to approach the defense committee of the Hungarian National Assembly about having advance talks of a mid-range AD system acquire – procurement. Also we are going to, as I said, approach the defense committee because we would like to increase our ability, improve our ability to defend our critical facilities.

As far as security is concerned, I asked the assistance of the Secretary – I asked his assistance about ExxonMobil so that ExxonMobil would make a final decision on investment concerning the – concerning natural gas from the offshore gas fields in Romania. 3.4 billion is the capacity on the pipelines when the interconnectors are connecting the Russia, the Romanian, and Hungarian pipelines. So should the American company make this decision, Hungary will make major steps forward concerning the diversification of procurement of natural gas.

And finally, we’ve also touched upon the economic ties between the two countries. The United States is the second-largest investor in Hungary. We are very grateful to GE, IBM Aircraft, BorgWarner, and other investors in Hungary for employing 105,000 Hungarian citizens. They’re – 1,700 strong is the investment community in Hungary, the U.S. investment community in Hungary, and we are very proud of the fact that U.S. companies repeatedly bring new investment decisions favoring Hungary. And we also owe gratitude because there – even in such an era which is challenged with political challenges, they still kept up the good ties.

Secretary, thank you very much for accepting my invitation. Thank you very much, after seven and a half years, to come – for coming to Hungary. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. We now ask His Excellency Michael Richard Pompeo, Secretary of State of the United States, to deliver his speech.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thanks, Peter. It’s an honor to be in Hungary as my first trip here as the Secretary of State, meeting with Prime Minister Orban and Defense Minister Benko. Peter, it was great to meet with you and your team as well.

It’s especially important to be here on this 30th anniversary of the end of communism. For three decades, the Hungarian people have worked to build a free and prosperous nation in the heart of Central Europe. The United States has been with you from the outset through trade, foreign assistance, defense partnerships, and people-to-people ties between our two countries. In doing so, we’re continuing a long tradition of America and Hungary standing together on the side of freedom.

I was a former cavalry officer a few years back. I’m indebted to Colonel Michael Kovats, the founder of the U.S. Cavalry, who fought and died for American freedom in our War of Independence. And I recall Lincoln’s resolution of support for Kossuth when he declared that America stood with Hungary in our continued devotion to the principles of free institutions.

I’m in Central Europe this week to talk about how we renew and deepen this special bond between our countries. That begins with strong defense. Peter announced and I’m happy to announce alongside him the conclusion of the defense cooperation agreement. This will be great for each of our two countries, and I welcome too your announcement today that you’ll be acquiring new defense capabilities from the United States as well. These steps, together with Hungary’s commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense and a strong presence in Afghanistan, strengthen Hungary’s and NATO’s security.

You need look no further than Ukraine, Hungary’s next-door neighbor, to see why this is needed. Today I spoke with the foreign minister about the urgent importance of supporting Ukraine in its quest for sovereignty and territorial integrity. We must not let Putin drive wedges between friends in NATO. Hungarians know all too well from their history that an authoritarian Russia will never be a friend to the freedom and sovereignty of smaller nations.

Russia’s not the only power that wants to erode freedom in this region. I raised with Peter today the dangers of allowing China to gain a bridgehead in Hungary, and we talked openly about how we might work together on that issue. There’s an experience of states in the Asia-Pacific region that shows that Beijing’s handshake sometimes comes with strings, strings that will leave Hungary indebted both economically and politically.

Now the difference is that Russia and China are authoritarian powers who do not share our joint aspirations of freedom. Today I met with Hungarian civil society leaders as well to talk about the importance of protecting and strengthening democratic institutions throughout the Western world. Americans and Hungarians have always stood together in the pursuit of freedom, and that tradition continues today. It’s why I am so proud of the American engagement with this country in the Trump administration.

I opened by talking about the 30th anniversary of the end of communism. I am announcing new initiatives that will strengthen U.S. presence in Central Europe region-wide. We are increasing support for people-to-people ties, events, and exchanges. It’s consistent with both the United States and Hungary’s mission. As part of this effort, I’m happy to announce the addition of Hungary to the Future Leaders Exchange Program, which will provide scholarships for Hungarian high school students to spend a year living with U.S. families and attending American schools. I told Peter they all had to come to Kansas. That’s my home state. (Laughter.) We’re also increasing support to help Hungary in its fight against corruption, strengthening law enforcement cooperation, and providing mentorships, training, and exchanges for independent media in all four Visegrad countries.

Too often in the recent past, the United States was absent from Central Europe. That’s unacceptable. Our rivals filled those vacuums. Today we reaffirm our determination to compete for positive influence in the region. We’ll do so through a reinvigorated diplomacy that seeks to cooperate strategically but also allows us to frankly discuss areas where we disagree in a manner that befits allies, and we’ll do so by expanding America’s commercial, public diplomacy, and cultural ties. We have every expectation Hungary will do its part to keep the commitment that it made 30 years ago. It is every ally’s responsibility to keep Europe free, just as Hungary did in 1948[i], 1956, and 1989. We have full confidence that you’ll continue to stand on the side of freedom, and it’s been a joy to be with you today.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much, and now we open the floor for questions. You can ask one question from American – the American press and then the Hungarian press as well, respectively. Christina, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, you spoke about pushing back against the influences of rivals in Eastern Europe, mainly China and Russia. How do you counter the objectives of those two states in a region, and in your talks with leaders today, do they feel the same way about the threat that you do? And if I may follow up, will you discuss the rule of law, press freedom, and human rights at your dinner with President Orban tonight?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So the answer to your second question is of course. Among friends we always talk about the important issues. America has always stood for that set of values, and I’m confident that we’ll have a good discussion about that. It’s very important. With respect to the first issue, or the first question, the way you engage is to compete. America was a no-show. When we’re not here, others will follow and they’ll show up, and they’ll be in duty on behalf of the country where America is absent to do the right things for their people, and when America’s absent, that won’t be in America’s best interest. So we’ve taken a fundamentally different approach in the Trump administration. We’ve now had 14 senior-level U.S. visits throughout Central Europe in just the first two years of this administration. I won’t tell you how many there were in the previous administration, but it starts with a “Z.” (Laughter.)

This is important. The way we achieve these outcomes, the way that we begin to develop relationships that are important, where we come to have shared understandings, is to be present, to have conversations, to have hard conversations when that’s what’s required. We do that. We had a good conversation today and I’m very confident we’ll continue to do that in the days and weeks and months ahead.

QUESTION: And Mr. Minister, if I may: You said it was easy to discuss things like Russia and China with the U.S. Do you feel that your two countries are on the same page when it comes to that issue? And are you willing to distance yourself from Russia and China in order to get closer to the U.S., and what are you looking for from the U.S. in return? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER SZIJJARTO: (Via interpreter) We are NATO allies. When it comes to cooperation with Russia or cooperation with the People’s Republic of China, that does not harm us being a reliable – or doesn’t endanger us being a reliable ally to the United States and to NATO. If you look at our cooperation with China, we represent 1.2 percent of the trade between the European Union and the People’s Republic of China. If you look at that Chinese company which is very often in the news nowadays regarding telecommunication, are they present in Hungary? Yes. Who are their major contractors? A German and a British company. So when it comes to China, I think hypocrisy should be left finally behind. We are usually accused, Central Europeans, that the so-called 16+1 format is so much breaking the European Union. Now out of the 16 countries involved in this cooperation, 11 are members of the European Union. Do you know how many percent of EU-China trade 11 of us represent? Less than 10 percent. So I think it’s not us that will be the game-changers in the relationship between, let’s say, the Western world and China.

And when it comes to Russia, I told the Secretary as well that there’s an enormous hypocrisy and political correctness in the European political arena in this regard. Because look, it’s not the Hungarian and it’s not the Central European energy companies which are preparing and building Nord Stream 2 together with Gazprom. It was not the Hungarian prime minister to be invited as a superstar at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, but it was the French president. It was not the leaders of the Hungarian energy companies to sit together on the stage with President Putin on the last Russian energy week, but the CEOs of the biggest Western European energy companies. Look at the trade figures. Look at the trade figures between the Western European countries and Russia, and you will see that we are let’s say fed up in a legitimate way that you usually portray us as having a tight relationship to Russia.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Yes, my name is Noemi Nemeti from M1 News, and you talked about the diversification of gas procurement. Now, what could be the trace, what could be the pathway of a pipeline from Romania to here, and do we also support that there would be an LNG terminal in Croatia?

FOREIGN MINISTER SZIJJARTO: (Via interpreter) Well, look, in Central Europe currently, we are unilaterally dependent on Russia concerning – concerning energy procurement and especially as far as gas is concerned. Eighty-five percent of our natural gas import comes from Russia, 85 percent. And we have done everything we could. I mean, we have implemented all necessary investments to diversify our gas acquisition sources. Now, we are in the position that it is solely up to our allies whether we can diversify our sources or not. If ExxonMobil makes a decision in favor of exploring gas in Romania so that we can buy gas from Romania, or the Croatians, if they come up with a fair price quotation, then we could also buy from the Krk LNG terminal in the Krk, the isle of Krk. Because look, according to the quote they gave us, 50 percent – there would be – the transition cost from Krk would be 50 percent more than if we were to have bought the – if we bought the gas from Rotterdam, from the Netherlands. Now, that’s not normal. And of course, this is why together with Slovenia we are applying for European sources, financial funding so that we can interconnect our gas pipelines and we could have an access to the LNG terminals.

But let me also say that it is not in the interest of Western Europe today for Eastern Europe or Central Europe to diversify the source – their sources. Otherwise they would not be building a new pathway between Russia and Northern Europe or Western Europe, which is going to be – which will have the capacity of 50 billion cubic meter, which is more than 50-fold the Hungarian annual consumption. So this is the agreement between Russia and Germany today, and that is going to improve the energy security and safety of Western Europe and Germany while we are just standing here waiting for our allies to make positive decisions so that we can also diversify our sources.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, I’ll just add very quickly this isn’t about selling American gas. This is a national security matter from the American perspective. This is about assisting countries throughout Europe and having alternative sources and not being dependent on Russia for their natural gas, so that if there is a day when there’s crunch time and when there is political influence to be had, these countries have alternatives; they are not solely dependent, and therefore at political risk to be suffered from Russian engagement that they are – that they do not welcome.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. This concludes our event today. Thank you very much for your kind attention and thank you very much for the attention of the press. Thank you. Bye-bye.