Ambassador László Szabó: US-Hungarian Economic Relations are a Model for Improving Political Relations

Publicated on: August 14, 2017

In an interview with Hungarian news agency MTI, newly Appointed Ambassador of Hungary to the United States Dr. László Szabó asserted that Hungary must make itself relevant to the United States.


Ambassador Szabó, who arrived in Washington, DC to take up his post only a few days ago, brings years of direct experience and familiarity with the United States. As the HR Director of the US pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, Ambassador Szabó spent several years working at the company’s headquarters in Indianapolis, IN. Later, as Parliamentary State Secretary in the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, he held regular meetings and consultations with some of the largest US companies and investors.

Ambassador Szabó sees the ever-expanding economic relations between Hungary and the United States as not only something to be proud of, but also as a foundation and model for improving political relations between the two nations.

While acknowledging that his mission and that of the Embassy of Hungary in Washington, DC is complex, Ambassador Szabó pointed out that “US-Hungarian bilateral economic relations are improving extremely well and dynamically, and while the annual turnover of trade is already in excess of 5 billion dollars and trade between the two countries has increased by 5% also this year, there are still opportunities yet to be explored and exploited,” adding that “we are on the right track, but we must now reinforce political relations under any circumstances.”

Discussing bilateral political relations, Ambassador Szabó acknowledged that during 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, “appears to be changing significantly” with the election of President Donald Trump.

Ambassador Szabó described President Donald Trump’s historic speech in Warsaw – which indicated that US foreign policy intends to pay greater attention to Central Europe than before – as significant. “We share the same views on a great many things,” he said.

“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 that the American people in America come first in the same way the Hungarian people in Hungary come first. We have nothing to be ashamed of regarding that sentiment,” said Ambassador Szabó.

Ambassador Szabó nonetheless emphasized that reshaping US-Hungarian relations is a project that takes 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 that we will gradually find more and more friends at State who understand that improving US-Hungarian and V4-US relations is also valuable for America.”

“We must make ourselves relevant to America, and that requires stating loudly and clearly why good relations with Hungary are important,” said Ambassador Szabó, citing the more than 1,700 US companies operating in Hungary that provide jobs for over 100,000 Hungarians. In total, forty of the fifty largest US multinationals operate subsidiaries in Hungary with a cumulative investment valued in excess of $18 billion. The United States is Hungary’s second largest trading partner and largest outside the European Union.

Speaking on the topic of energy security, Ambassador Szabó stressed that "we must make it clear that having now assumed the Presidency of the Visegrád Group, we do pay close attention to the energy policy of the United States and in particular, Washington’s efforts to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe.”

One of Hungary’s key priorities as President of the Visegrád Group is the construction of the planned gas terminal and interconnectors on the Island of Krk. When finished, the project will link Croatia, Hungary and Romania, thereby increasing Hungarian access to US energy sources "making Hungary less dependent on Russian gas.” Ambassador Szabó made clear that that Russian gas will remain an important component of Hungarian energy security in the future, but that healthy price competition will clearly be beneficial for the Hungarian people.

Ambassador Szabó also told MTI that he has been in contact with the US Department of State’s Bureau of Energy Resources, with whom he had "a most useful meeting.” "They are turning towards Central-Europe with great interest,” remarked Ambassador Szabó.

Ambassador Szabó stressed the importance of US-Hungarian security cooperation in his interview. "We are very a serious partner, and Hungary has already proven this by virtue of the fact that we are one of the 27 states contributing to the fight against the terrorist organization called Islamic State with troops on the ground.” Ambassador Szabó noted that the Hungarian contingent of soldiers serving in the city of Erbil in Northern Iraq will be increased by 33% from 150 to 200 persons following a recent decision by Hungarian Parliament in July 2017 and pointed out Hungary’s presence in the Baltic region and the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

"We are present in NATO operations with almost a thousand troops, a remarkable feat for such as a small country as ours. The Americans, too, appreciate this,” Ambassador Szabó added.

(Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister/MTI)