Chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend gave the following interview to ATV on Friday morning:
ATV: Please analyse or explain what is happening at this moment between Hungary and the United States?
Goodfriend: The United States and Hungary have been friends and allies for a long time. We go back more than 200 years with Hungary and Hungarians helping us with our fight for independence, and the United States supporting Hungary during its 1848-1849 period, the revolution and Lajos Kossuth. We have a long history together. People remember of course 1956 our giving refuge to Cardinal Mindszenty and the support we gave in 1989 towards the regime change here. We have shared values and a shared history of people emigrating and living in each other’s countries. The Hungarians have family and friends living in the United States who are able to tell them what life is like there. We know that Americans understand the values of the people living here in Hungary. So with that kind of deep, long-lasting relationship, it’s hard to talk about any kind of division or separation of the two countries. Instead, what we are talking about is our two peoples who have a shared vision, shared values, talking about what those values are, and what they mean for each other, and how we can work together to try and achieve a common vision. So, it’s an open discussion now. Open communication. And that is really what we’ve been talking about. The need for open discussion. We need to discuss things publicly and in private. And to say the same thing in public as we say in private.
ATV: (Temporarily suspending the right of) six people, including government officials, does not seem like a friendly gesture.
Goodfriend: As far as a friendly gesture, what it should seem is that we are saying the same thing as Hungary says, as the Hungarian government says. We should all have zero tolerance for corruption. And that we all accept that among public officials there are going to be public officials who are engaged in corrupt activities. We have that in the United States, Hungary has it here. What we are saying is that when you are aware of people who are engaged in corrupt activity, you take the actions that are appropriate. We expect that Hungary because of its zero tolerance policy will take its own actions concerning its own officials. We took action privately without making a media story about it with regards to whether those people could enter the United States. Hungary should make its own decisions about how it handles corruption among its own public officials.
ATV: Are NAV officials among the six individuals in question?
Goodfriend: I’d rather not actually focus on who people are, where they work, because that starts getting into the discussion of should we tell the Hungarian government which people exactly it should investigate, whether the United States should tell Hungary what to do. And we don’t think we should tell Hungary what to do. What we are saying is that we’ve worked together over the past few years and that the information is there that Hungary can choose to work on itself. And that it can identify based on the information that it has what action should be taken. And we’ve had good cooperation. We’ve talked in fact about some of the cases that have led to our refusing entry to certain individuals, we’ve talked with the Hungarian government these cases in general over the past couple of years, and we look forward to working with Hungary as we both try to deal with corruption in our societies.
ATV: Is it possible that the six affected individuals do not know that they may not travel to the United States?
Goodfriend: We’ve contacted each of the individuals directly. This is how we handle decisions about who can enter the United States. We don’t announce it publicly. We don’t announce it to their employers. We talk with the individuals directly and advise them of the ineligibility. And that’s what we’ve done in this case. So each of the people who have been excluded from the United States has been advised directly about that ineligibility. They know.
ATV: Just to be clear, if the director of the NAV, Ildiko Vida, is on the list, then she must know.
Goodfriend: Anyone who has been denied entry to the United States at least with regard to the people we are talking about have been informed.
ATV: Many have attacked your person as a result of your statements. Tamás Deutsch, Fidesz Hungarian member of the European Parliament, said you were a “fifth-rate CIA agent turned agent provocateur”. Then the Demokrata writer Balázs Agoston called you “ethically shabby“ and spoke of a Kijev-like coup and compared you to a Nazi ambassador.
Goodfriend: (Chuckling) Diplomats are representing their country. And the reason we have diplomats in each other’s country is to try to understand the situation, to explain our position, the position of our government to the host government, in this case Hungary, and to explain what is happening in that country back to our own government. So we have an obligation to go and see different events, to understand by virtue of our own eyes and our own experience what is happening. I go to many events. I go to events by all parts of the political spectrum. I go to religious events, cultural events, events that represent the different minority groups within Hungary. Sometimes I actively participate where we say this is a cause the United States government supports and we want to show our support for this. In those cases I announce in advance that I’m going to participate, such as the march of the living that took place a few months ago, or the gay pride parade. We announced in advance that we would be participating, and we were very visible in those events. In other cases, we simply go to observe to understand what is happening, and to look at the size of the crowd, the mood. And in this case that was what I was doing. And for people to say that diplomats should not go and see what is happening in the country where they are serving, that type of talk says something more about those people. It says that they don’t think others should try to understand what is happening in their country. And that people should only talk with one group of people and not with others, and should only hear one viewpoint and not the other viewpoint. And in fact what we are trying to do is show that communication is important. That we need to be able to hear all the viewpoints. We need to be able to go to all manifestations of public opinion. And that’s the message. By going out and seeing this demonstration as well as seeing demonstrations on the other side we’re showing that we want to hear all perspectives, and that we cannot limit ourselves to hearing just one side or the other.
ATV: It’s not only people who feel you’ve overstepped your diplomatic bounds but also the Russian Foreign Ministry, which objects to your making comments about the relationship between Hungary and Russia.
Goodfriend: The comments that they may be referring to are comments that I made at an open news conference with regards to our discussions with Hungary about civil society, transparency, rule of law, all of the various issues that we’ve been discussing, corruption included. And the question came up with regard to whether there are any politics involved in our decision; whether politics or concerns about Hungary’s relationship with Russia was one of the reasons to exclude certain people from the United States. My answer was no. Hungary’s relationship with Russia is not a factor. What we were looking at were certain aspects of Hungarian society with regard to transparency. I did mention transparency with regards to the Paks nuclear decision, that this was a decision that is still essentially a secret decision made quietly without transparency. It was that which was more of a concern, lack of transparency in decision making. In looking at South Stream it was not a question about Hungary’s relationship with Russia, it was a question about diversity of energy sources. We’ve been discussing with Hungary and other countries within Europe the need of having diverse sources of energy in Europe. South Stream gets its gas from the same source as the other pipeline to Hungary. They both come from Russia. It’s not diversifying sources, its diversifying routes. So this is a discussion about there being no benefit to Southstream as far as diversity of sources of energy. And the third aspect was standing with the European Union both publicly and privately with regard to the actions that the European Union has taken through consensual vote. Hungary agreed with its European Union partners to sanctions against Russia. Hungary agreed to that. And what I said during that press conference was that if you agreed with your partners in private, then you should also in public be able to support your own decisions.
ATV: Banning six individuals from entering the United States is a kind of sanction however we call it. It appears nothing is happening in Hungary. No investigation was started, no one is reported to the authorities, we don’t know who the six people are. Can additional steps be expected from the United States if nothing continues to happen in Hungary in connection with the corruption matter?
Goodfriend: As I noted, we took an action with regards to who can enter the United States. And that was our decision to make based on information we have and information that the government of Hungary has. We want to work with Hungary in looking at the range of information it has. So that Hungary can address the concerns of its own citizens. As I said before, it should not be the case that Hungary asks the United States what it should do with regard to corruption. Sometimes I hear the statement that “we can’t take action against corruption in our own country unless the United States tells us which people are corrupt”. I can’t imagine that really is the appropriate approach. Hungary has seen this information provided from its own citizens, provided from its own officials. The action that Hungary takes is something for the government of Hungary to decide, and we would like to assist with that. But it should be the government of Hungary that acts based upon the information it already has. If it chooses not to act it’s not a question of what would the United States do, if Hungary chooses not to act based on the information it already has, the question is how does Hungarian society feel about the Hungarian government not acting on the information it has concerning corruption among government officials.