U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has begun a five-nation European tour that administration officials say will focus on opposition to the growing influence of Russia and China in Central Europe.
Pompeo arrived in Hungary on February 11 ahead of visits to Slovakia and Poland. He is set to complete his journey with stops in Brussels and Rekjaivik, Iceland, on February 15.
A senior administration official said Pompeo will meet with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, a vocal admirer of U.S. President Donald Trump.
The official said the talks will center on “efforts to bolster the security relationship, to counter Russian aggression, strengthen NATO deterrence,” and "support for Ukraine."
In addition, talks on air and missile defense are expected to take place, and Pompeo is likely to acknowledge Hungary’s role in Afghanistan and the fight against the Islamic State (IS) insurgent group in the Middle East.
The official said Pompeo will “express support for civil society” in Hungary and that he will meet with leaders of nongovernmental organizations.
In the past, Hungary had been ranked by Freedom House as politically "free," but it was reclassified in the Freedom In The World 2019 report as "partly free" because of "sustained attacks" by Orban's Fidesz party on the media, courts, religious groups, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector.
The State Department said that Pompeo’s visit to Central Europe marks 30 years since the peoples of the region “tore down the Iron Curtain to reclaim their freedom and sovereignty, choosing the path of Western democracy denied to them for decades, and solidifying that commitment by joining NATO and the European Union.”
The United States is “committed to a strong, united, and capable transatlantic alliance rooted in the principles of common defense, democracy, and fundamental freedoms,” a February 10 statement said.
It said that Washington was also committed to increasing its “diplomatic, military, commercial, and cultural engagement with Central Europe in order to strengthen this region’s ties with the West as it faces increased pressure from Russia and China.”
In Poland, Pompeo will attend a conference on the Middle East on February 13-14 that is expected to focus on Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Jared Kushner, Trump's senior adviser on the Middle East and son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt, the special U.S. envoy for international negotiations, are also expected to attend.
Based on reporting by AP and AFP