Hungary’s state-run media reports that Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó arrived in Washington Monday afternoon. According to news agency MTI, Szijjártó (pictured) hopes that changes in the US State Department are a signal of the dawning of a new era for US-Hungary relations. The tight-lipped report from MTI does not indicate whether Szijjártó managed to secure a meeting with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Szijjártó has reportedly met with the representatives of Hungarian organizations in the area as well as the Israeli ambassador to Washington.
In October, Dr. A. Wess Mitchell was sworn in as Assistant Secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Mitchell’s Obama-era predecessor, Victoria Nuland, was an unabashed critic of the Orbán government. As for Mitchell’s position on Hungary, it remains to be seen whether Szijjártó’s hopes for improved bilateral ties come true.
Before joining the US State Department, Mitchell was the President and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), a think-tank dedicated to the study of Central Europe. Ironically, Mitchell’s successor at the helm of CEPA is none other than Réka Szemerkényi, the former Hungarian ambassador to Washington.
Mitchell is known to be a strong critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, but this does not necessarily imply that the Orbán government will curry more favor with the current US administration. The Trump administration was critical of the Hungarian government’s harassment of NGOs and its attempt to shutter Budapest-based Central European University.
In 2016, Mitchell and Jakub J. Grygiel published “The Unquiet Frontier Rising Rivals, Vulnerable Allies, and the Crisis of American Power”. In it, the authors illustrate how three countries – Russia, China, and Iran – are targeting vulnerable allies on the frontiers of US power.
Ultimately, what remains to be seen is whether the US decision-makers will overlook Hungary’s democratic backsliding, human rights violations, and rampant corruption if Hungary can prove that it is still a committed ally in the region. We can be certain about one thing: there is hesitation in the Fidesz hinterland regarding Mitchell’s appointment.