Hungary summons US envoy after Senator McCain calls PM Orban 'neo-fascist dictator'

Hungary summons US envoy after Senator McCain calls PM Orban 'neo-fascist dictator'

BUDAPEST - Agence France-Presse
Hungary summons US envoy after Senator McCain calls PM Orban neo-fascist dictator

US Senator John McCain speaks at the Reagan National Defense Forum 'Building Peace Through Strength for American Security' event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley, California on Nov. 15. McCain called Hungarian Prime minister Viktor Orban 'a neo fascist dictator'. AFP Photo

Hungary summoned the United States' top diplomat in the country on Dec. 3 to protest comments by U.S. Senator John McCain branding Prime Minister Viktor Orban a "neo-fascist dictator."       

During Senate deliberations on new ambassadors in Washington on Tuesday, McCain described Hungary as "a nation that is on the verge of ceding its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator getting in bed with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin."       

Budapest hit back on Dec. 3 with Levente Magyar, state secretary for foreign affairs, telling the US charge d'affaires: "The Hungarian government finds it unacceptable and firmly rejects Senator John McCain's comments on the Hungarian prime minister and on Hungary's relationship with Russia."    

The foreign ministry also said the Hungarian embassy in Washington was in contact with McCain's staff.

McCain, a former U.S. presidential contender, later told AFP in Washington he was not concerned about how his remarks were being taken by the Hungarian government, and that he urged Orban to change during a trip to Hungary last January.

"Obviously he has chosen not to," McCain said.

The Republican senator said the Hungarian premier's deal with Putin earlier this year to upgrade a nuclear plant along with a crackdown on media were among "a long list" of examples of neo-fascist behaviour by Orban.       

"It is well known in Europe the things that he is doing. This comes as a revelation to no one," he said.

McCain's comments came after a confirmation hearing for Colleen Bell, a TV soap opera producer and President Barack Obama's nominee as ambassador to Hungary. Her nomination was approved by the Senate.

"This is a very important country, where bad things are going on," McCain told the Senate, echoing widespread criticism that Orban was centralising power and curbing the independence of the judiciary and media.        

"And we're going to send the producer of 'The Bold and The Beautiful' as the ambassador," the senator added, calling Bell a "totally unsuitable" nominee.

Relations between Hungary and the U.S. have steadily worsened, with Obama in September criticising Budapest for targeting civil society.

Washington last month banned the entry of six Hungarian officials for alleged corruption.

The U.S. ambassador's seat in Budapest has been vacant since July 2013. Hungarian officials have accused the top envoy of political meddling.

Asked about the issue on Wednesday in Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the Obama administration did not endorse McCain's comments.

"I think it's no surprise that there are a number of views Senator McCain has espoused that we don't share... I would put that in this category, of course," she said.