Committed to upholding democratic values, the diplomat stressed the importance of observing the rule of law, freedom rights, the freedom of religion and free speech along with the freedom of the press. The ambassador, who took up his post in June, said he had held talks with political and religious officials, as well as NGO leaders over the past two months and gained favourable experiences overall.

None of his negotiating partners stated concern over freedom rights or anti-Semitism, he said, adding that he had not heard any criticism over corruption at talks he had held with business leaders, either. Concerning the issue of the Central European University, Cornstein noted his visit to CEU shortly after taking up his office, which he said aimed to demonstrate its significance.

# Ambassadors László Szabó (left) and David B. Cornstein

Cornstein said keeping the university in Budapest was in Hungary's interest. The CEU has fulfilled all five criteria set by the Hungarian government, and it is time to sign an agreement and move on, he added. Concerning bilateral defence cooperation, he noted the US government's USD 55 million contribution to an upgrade of tarmacs at Hungary's military air bases in the framework of a US-Hungarian defence cooperation agreement.

On the topic of Hungarian-Ukrainian relations, he offered to mediate between the two countries over Ukraine's education law, which Hungary says harms the rights of the Hungarian minorities in Ukraine.

Cornstein said Hungary should reduce its dependence on Russian energy supplies. He warned that Russia was aiming to sow discord, while his country was committed to providing assistance. Central Europe, he suggested, should opt for the United States.


Hungarian workforce praised

In early September the US ambassador participated in a business forum organised by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary (AmCham), where he described Hungary's workforce as "exceptional" and "highly intelligent".

#

Cornstein highlighted Hungary's low corporate tax rate and said the government's measures encourage business activity. It was "terrible" that Hungary received 80 percent of its energy supply from a single other country. The ambassador said he believes the Hungarian government shares this sentiment, adding that they were working to have the US supply 40 percent of the country's energy needs. Cornstein called Russia a "disruptive" nation.

On CEU again, the ambassador called its situation an emotional affair. It would be unfortunate if the CEU moved to Vienna but, at the same time, he believed a solution to the problem was near.

László Szabó, Hungary's ambassador to the US, said at the forum that many aspects of the two countries' relations have changed over the past year. He noted that US President Donald Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had spoken on the phone for the second time shortly before Cornstein took up his post in Budapest this past summer. Szabó thanked the ambassador for his support.

Szabó said the two countries' trade relations have "never been better". Hungarian exports to the US increased by more than 6 percent, while imports rose by 4 percent in Q2 of this year, he said. Though bilateral relations went through some difficulties during the Obama administration, the two countries were allies in many ways, Szabo said. More than 1000 Hungarian troops had participated in NATO missions in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist organisation.

Last year, US companies made numerous significant investments in Hungary, Szabó said, adding that US-based firms employ more than 100,000 people in Hungary. He said significant progress had been made in getting American liquefied natural gas to Hungary and voiced hope that once this goal is accomplished, Russia's dominance of the natural gas market would end.


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