(Original publication: May 7, 2019)
Hungary’s hardline nationalist prime minister, whose erosion of checks on his power has led some to describe him as a de facto dictator, will meet President Donald Trump in Washington next week, the White House announced on Tuesday.
The May 13 encounter, which was initially announced by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Cabinet last week, will pair two populist leaders both seeking to restrict migration into their countries, including through the building of fences. Both have also vilified journalists and fostered tensions with the European Union.
The White House said in a statement Trump’s talks with Orban would “discuss ways to deepen cooperation on a range of issues, including trade, energy, and cyber security.” The statement also said the men would “explore opportunities to meet the many national security responsibilities of their two countries and will celebrate Hungary’s 20th anniversary as a NATO member.”
Orban had largely been frozen out by President Barack Obama’s administration, which raised concerns over a rolling back of Democratic practices, restrictions on the media and corruption within the government. He hasn’t visited the White House since 2001.
But Hungary has recently signaled its interest in completing an arms deal with the United States, and Trump has been eager to tout sales of US munitions to foreign countries during his talks with world counterparts.
The President has also been more willing to engage leaders the previous administration iced out because of anti-Democratic practices. Trump has cultivated ties to global strongmen such as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping — not to mention his two summits with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un or his general warmth toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In Orban, Trump will find another leader with staunch anti-immigration views, which has translated into razor-wire fences along Hungary’s southern border, constructed to prevent asylum seeks from entering the country.
The migration issue, along with Orban’s moves to consolidate control of the country’s judiciary and threaten the independence of the media, has caused deep rifts with the European Union. Orban’s party was suspended in March from the EU’s largest political coalition.
Trump has generated his own tiffs with the EU, namely over trade. He faces a mid-May deadline on imposing new tariffs on European autos.
His decision to meet with Orban at the White House will likely only cement the impression he’s looking beyond traditional US allies to form partnerships. In a symbolic piece of timing, the visit was announced the same morning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled a planned meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel — a major EU proponent and long-standing American ally — to fly to an unknown destination to confront what was only described as “pressing issues.”
Image source: Politico Europe