Washington: He’s rolled back democratic tests on his power, about creating a European ethnostate and erected a razor-wire fence to have migrants out, angering the rest of the European Union.
“I know he’s a tough man but he’s a respected man,” Trump said at the time of a friendly photo-op at the start of the discussions on Monday. “Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s OK. That’s OK.”
Administration officials say the invitation to the White House for talks — the first for a Hungarian prime minister in years — belongs to a concerted strategy to re-engage Central European nations like Russia and China attempt to exert influence in the region.
But the trip is raising questions about which leaders Trump is looking to develop — including a long set of global strongmen — at the expense of more traditional US allies.
Since then, he’s adopted a more stridently nationalist tone — including calls to build in Hungary a homogenous society that blocks asylum seekers or other refugees.
“We must state that we do not want to be diverse,” he said in a 2018 speech. “We do not want our own color, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others.”
“We are proud to stand together with the United States on fighting against illegal immigration, on terrorism and to protect and help the Christian communities all over the world,” Orban said in short remarks from the Oval Office.
Orbán isn’t exactly being greeted warmly back to Washington with open arms. He was the first foreign leader to endorse Trump in his presidential bid, and has lobbied intensely for a meeting, but it took above two years to save a White House invite — the last of the major Central European nations to come for talks.
The delay shown American officials’ wish to discourage Hungary from further eroding democratic values. It’s a problem they’ve increased at lower-level meetings, including when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Budapest in February.
A number of advisers have cautioned Trump about appearing overly chummy with his counterpart, believing a warm embrace could hamper the administration’s efforts to maintain Orbán at arms-length.
Trump declared at the time of his meeting with Orbán that he would use next month’s Group of 20 summit in Japan for meetings with both Putin and Xi.
The migration issue, along with Orbán’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. Orbán’s party was suspended in March from the EU’s largest political coalition.
Trump has created his own tiffs with the EU, namely over trade. He faces a mid-May deadline on imposing new tariffs on European autos.