Monday, July 15, 2024

Hungary’s Orban to meet with Trump after attending NATO summit with Biden

Hungary’s Orban to meet with Trump after attending NATO summit with Biden

As President Biden met with world leaders at the NATO summit this week, his opponent, former president Donald Trump, was scheduled to meet with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — the autocratic leader who, like Trump, has questioned NATO policy toward Ukraine and Russia.

The two will meet in Florida, a Trump campaign official confirmed.

Orbán, who attended this week’s NATO summit, has pursued a Russia-friendly foreign policy that has put him out of step with the Biden administration and with other European allies. Inside NATO, he has slowed steps to bolster defenses against Moscow. At the European Union, which handles economic policy, he has watered down Russia sanctions.

Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, has long praised Orbán, who has worked to undermine key democratic institutions in Hungary since coming into power in 2010. The Hungarian leader is a self-proclaimed proponent of “illiberal” Christian democracy and has championed restrictions on LGBTQ+ rights and immigration while cracking down on the country’s judiciary and the press. He’s also garnered praise from conservative populists and conservative institutions in the United States, reinterpreting Trump’s longtime slogan and frequently saying “Make Europe Great Again” in public remarks.

The Hungarian leader last week set off a firestorm of criticism by making a whistle-stop tour of Kyiv, Moscow and Beijing in what he billed as an effort to jump-start a peace process to end the war in Ukraine. Orban’s visit to Russia was just the second meeting by a European leader on Putin’s home turf since the Russian leader invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Orban has also met with Putin outside Russia.

The visit to Moscow ran counter to Western efforts to isolate the Kremlin since the beginning of the war, lending political legitimacy to Putin’s demands, critics said, and infuriating fellow leaders who felt Orbán was pursuing freelance diplomacy since he just took over the European Union’s rotating presidency on July 1.

Officials familiar with Orban’s communications with European policymakers after his Moscow visit say that he appears to be endorsing Putin’s view of the conflict — one that blames Ukraine for the war and would award large chunks of Kyiv’s territory to Russia.

Since Ukraine is the country that was attacked, and not the aggressor, the Biden administration and most other NATO nations have said they would defer to Kyiv about whether and when the right moment is for negotiations. Orban’s effort undermines that, some policymakers say.

Orbán’s visit was “counterproductive to promoting Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week.

Within that context, Orbán’s meeting with Trump was sure to set off alarms within even more capitals. While it is not uncommon for foreign officials to meet opposition leaders close to elections, Trump has already declared that, if elected, he will end the war in Ukraine even before he takes office. According to people familiar with his plan, Trump has privately said he could end Russia’s war in Ukraine by pressuring Ukraine to give up some territory.

Orbán — who did not have any high-level meetings with Biden administration officials while in Washington, apart from the summit — has Putin’s vision for the future of Ukraine in his head and will be able to bring it to Trump. Trump, in turn, will likely tell Orban his own thoughts about how to manage the conflict.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed Orban’s efforts on Thursday.

“Where he will go tomorrow, I don’t know,” Zelensky told reporters after meeting with NATO leaders at the summit. “Between us, with all due respect to everybody, will all respect to all the countries, big and small countries, we have said that not all the leaders can make negotiations. You need to have some power for this.”

The meeting between Orbán and Trump comes amid concerns among world leaders over Trump’s potential rise to a second term, especially as Biden faces competency questions following a rocky debate performance on June 27. The long-planned NATO summit is happening at a moment of extraordinary political peril for Biden, as Democrats debate whether he should remain their presidential nominee.

As The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, during the summit, world leaders debated those questions among themselves, asking their American counterparts what to make of the unfolding political crisis and closely parsing Biden’s public and private interactions to determine whether he seems up to another brutal campaign and presidential term, according to several people familiar with leaders’ reactions, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private dynamics.

On Thursday, during an event in North Carolina, Vice President Harris sought to use Trump’s meeting with Orbán to draw a contrast between the likely Republican nominee and Biden.

“As Trump bows down to dictators, he makes America weak and that is disqualifying for someone who wants to be commander in chief of the United States of America,” Harris said. “That is disqualifying.”

Earlier this year, Orbán visited Washington not to meet with Biden, but to deliver remarks at the conservative Heritage Foundation and meet with Trump. And Orbán has said he backs Trump’s presidential bid, saying in March that the world needs “leaders in the world who are respected and can bring peace. He is one of them! Come back and bring us peace, Mr. President!”

Josh Dawsey and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.

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