Géza: You met with the new Hungarian Ambassador to Washington D.C., H.E László Szabó before his departure. What did you talk about?
Ambassador László Szabó and I had the opportunity to meet before he departed to Washington. During our conversation, we had the opportunity to talk about what is strong in our relationship. Our defense cooperation in which both of our countries work together to meet new challenges in Europe and elsewhere in the world. We talked quite a bit about trade and business between the U.S. and Hungary. We, as the second largest investment partner and the American businesses, are responsible for the creation of a hundred thousand jobs for Hungarians, here in Hungary. We talked about ongoing and continuing law-enforcement cooperation between our countries. What was even more important is the people to people, cultural context between our two countries, in particular for young people. Americans coming to Hungary, and Hungarians going to the U.S., to study or work, for example in our Summer Work and Travel program and other educational opportunities in the U.S..
Since the U.S. and Hungary are friends and allies, and also because it’s our duty and it’s our obligation to speak to one another as friends when we see issues of concern in one another’s countries we had a discussion regarding CEU which continues to be an issue of concern for the U.S. Our strong desire is that an agreement be reached between Hungary and the State of New York to enable the CEU to continue to function here with its full academic freedom, and the same for other universities which function here, for example, McDaniel College from Maryland. We had a frank discussion about the NGO law, and the ability of Hungarians to organize and to be active in the development of their own society on issues that sometimes might not be the most important or even the most welcome on the part of the government. It is the responsibility of all countries in the OSCE to provide an environment for civil society, for active democratic participation by all citizens. We see challenges to that in Hungary, which causes us concern, and those are the issues that we raise.
Géza: As you have mentioned CEU, for us, university students, it’s a grave concern. Are there any platforms where the US government and the Hungarian government is in contact regarding this issue?
In the U.S. the responsibility for universities is not with the federal government, it belongs to the state governments. So from the beginning, when a requirement was posed on the Central European University to reach a new agreement with the appropriate level of government in the U.S., that was not the federal government but the State of New York. Eventually, the Government of Hungary began talks with representatives from the State of New York.
Krisztián: When did the Hungarian Government start the discussion with the State of New York?
I believe it began in the middle, toward the end of June. There was an actual meeting between the representatives of the State of New York and the Hungarian government in New York at the end of June. Those discussions, as I understand them, have been continuing. So at this point, we hope and encourage the State of New York and the Hungarian Government to reach an agreement, so that CEU can continue to function here with full academic freedom.
Géza: As the legislation will start to be enforced from next year, do you think it is possible to reach an agreement before the end of the year?
It would be our strong hope, and I think it is our expectation that an agreement can be reached by the end of the year. CEU has been an important part of U.S.-Hungarian relations. It has served as a strong foundation for educational exchange or other exchanges between the U.S. and Hungary for more than 25 years. In the U.S. it enjoys the strong support of both Republicans and Democrats in our Congress, throughout the academic community from coast to coast, and here in Budapest as well. For those reasons alone, because it plays such an important part in our bilateral relations, we absolutely hope and expect that it can continue its work here.
We asked Mr. Kostelancik about Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections and whether the rumors are true that Mr. Gorkamight is let go. Although he declined to speculate about either topic, one week later Mr. Gorka was let go. Aware of an opinion article in the Rolling Stones magazine, Mr. Kostelancik quickly came to the defense of Corvinus, stating: “Corvinus is an excellent university, which we know is respected throughout Hungary, Europe and in the U.S. and I thought that was a really unfair characterization [of Corvinus].”
Géza: Let’s continue with trade: In light of both the U.S. and the Hungarian governments’interest in protectionism, how can this affect the TTIP talks?
The U.S.. as any other country when approaching a discussion about trade has always sought to find and reach an agreement that is fair and equitable but also promotes growth, encourages investment and it is beneficial in terms of creating jobs. That approach will remain the same for the Trump administration. At present, our new trade representative has announced that free trade talks or trade agreement talks with the European Union are a priority, and the U.S. recognizes that there is an enormous economic potential between the U.S. and the EU. There are in any country, at any time, at any negotiations, voices, and concerns about domestic industries; about ensuring that certain sectors of the economy do well under the terms of any agreement. That will continue during the Trump administration concerning particular industries in the U.S. and I would imagine we will hear those concerns in Europe as well. But the point is that we all recognize that what is needed is to reach an agreement that would lower tariffs and enable economic growth, job creation, and greater investment.
Krisztián: The U.S. is quite eager to export natural gas to Europe; what are the major obstacles to this? What is needed for the U.S. to export natural gas to Hungary?
The U.S. has long encouraged Europe to diversify its gas and other energy resources. Now as a result of technological changes in the U.S., we will be able to export gas to Europe. I think what will certainly be needed are financial support and incentives, and making LNG from the U.S. commercially and economically efficient for EU countries. But there are also the connections, the physical connections of pipelines between some European countries, which would be important as well. President Trump’s participation at the Three Seas Initiative Summit at the beginning of July was an important indication on the part of the U.S. that we are quite interested in beginning to market LNG to European countries. We want to work closely with these countries, particularly with the countries of Central Europe. There are different routes that gas could get to Hungary; from the north through Poland or from the south through Croatia. We will continue to work with the EU and with individual countries and groups of countries to continue to encourage this diversification and to make available American LNG if those countries are interested.
We asked Mr. Kostelancik if ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine should be worried about the new sanctions placed on Russia and he replied with a firm no. The sanctions only affect Russia and its ability to wage war in Eastern Ukraine. Aggression from Russia has been growing for years, and as NATO members our countries share responsibility for the security of the region. “…Hungary and the U.S. are best served when there is a strong Ukraine that’s sovereign, in which democracy is taking deeper roots, in which corruption is being combated and being rooted out and that kind of Ukraine will be the best environment for all nationalities.” These remarks came before Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stressed that nonlethal weapons could be supplied to Ukraine for defense purposes.
Géza: Does the U.S. administration welcome the commitment of Hungary to raise their defense expenditure to the requirements of NATO?
We welcome the decision of the Hungarian government to meet the Wales summit commitment that 2 % of the GDP be expended on defense. We also welcome statements by the Hungarian Government that the timeline for meeting that commitment will be sped up so that the 2% will be reached earlier.
Géza: Does it matter what the 2% is spent on?
Yes, the way the 2% is spent does matter. In fact, the goal is for the countries to spend a certain (higher) percentage on the acquisition of new technologies, which increase interoperability, the connections between the Hungarian military and other NATO members. Because at the end of the day, decisions on defense expenditures are the decisions of every country individually. The important thing is that we all as an alliance are willing to exercise together, to communicate together, – should ever come to it – to fight together. For that, there needs to be a coordination between countries. NATO does a lot of that, defense, military personnel at NATO. Hungary’s representatives, U.S. representatives, and others are constantly discussing what each could do in different areas that they might want to concentrate on so that they can improve their connections with their fellow allies.
Krisztián: What is the U.S. position on a joint European army?
For the U.S., the most important is that NATO abilities do not suffer as a result of the development of a European Union force. That is, that resources, money or personnel who are signed or committed to the EU defense structures would not be taken away from NATO structures and put under an EU flag. We have long supported stronger defense cooperation between the EU members and in fact, NATO itself has good cooperation with several non-NATO EU members – Finland and Sweden being at the top.
David J. Kostelancik was inspired to become a diplomat by growing up in a Central European neighborhood of Chicago; surrounded by immigrants from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Poland, and Hungary. He began studying Russian, which prepared him for several diplomatic assignments in his my career, where the command of the language enabled him to contribute to international agreements.
As a graduate student, he interned one summer for the State Department working on issues
concerning the Soviet Union. The experience was life-changing for him. He met and worked with U.S. diplomats who had served throughout the world. After his graduate studies, he decided to pursue a diplomatic career instead of an academic one.
His upbringing in Chicago’s Central/East European neighborhoods 45 years ago, as well as his academic studies and work experience as an intern, have prepared him to take on the tasks of a diplomat.
“The true importance that we put emphasis on is an interaction between Americans and Hungarians. Particularly, not only, but particularly young people. I mentioned before our Summer Work and Travel program; educational opportunities in the U.S. or here in Budapest, the CEU and other programs that offer opportunities for Americans as well as for Hungarians to work, interact and study together. That’s very important for us.”
Géza Kovács-Dobák & Krisztián Sándor
Originally published by Közgazdász, Hungary’s oldest university newspaper, co-authored with Krisztián Sándor