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US ambassador’s views on Hungary ‘irrelevant,’ minister says

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The Hungarian foreign minister accused the United States ambassador to Budapest on Thursday of trying to interfere in Hungary’s internal affairs, amid a growing diplomatic rift between the U.S. and the Central European country.

At a news conference in Budapest, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto lashed out at comments in Politico this week in which Ambassador David Pressman referred to Hungary’s approach to the war in neighboring Ukraine as pushing “policies endorsed by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

Szijjarto said it is “completely irrelevant what (Pressman) or any other ambassador thinks about the domestic political process in Hungary, because it has nothing to do with him.”

“It is not his place to interfere in Hungary’s internal affairs,” Szijjarto said.

Pressman, an appointee of the Biden administration who earlier served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, has faced significant headwinds since taking office in Hungary in August last year.

Local media loyal to the right-wing government of populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban have accused the diplomat of meddling in Hungary’s judiciary, and of pushing American colonialism.

Since taking office, Pressman has been vocal about a growing wave of anti-American sentiment in Hungary, and on the reluctance of Orban’s government to join the European Union in imposing sanctions on Moscow for its war in Ukraine. Writing on Twitter in January, Pressman asked, “How does protecting Russian oligarchs from sanctions serve Hungary and Hungarians?”

Yet Hungary’s government, which had an amicable relationship with the U.S. administration under former President Donald Trump, has insisted that sanctions are hurting European countries more than Russia, and declared that only negotiations between Moscow and Washington — and not the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine — can bring an end to the war.

On Thursday, Szijjarto said Pressman would “have a very difficult job in terms of working effectively to improve cooperation” between Hungary and the U.S. if he criticized Budapest’s policies.

“That era is over. Hungary is a sovereign country,” Szijjarto said. “No one from outside can tell us how to live.”