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NATO top job hopeful agrees to make concession to Orban – media

Budapest previously said it would veto Mark Rutte’s candidacy over his remarks about Hungary’s government

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who hopes to become NATO’s next secretary general, has made a deal with his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban in exchange for the latter’s endorsement of his appointment, according to media reports.

Rutte’s candidacy has been backed by 29 out of 32 NATO member states. The mandate of the current secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, expires on October 1. His replacement must have the unanimous support of all the bloc’s members.

Budapest previously threatened to veto Rutte’s appointment due to comments he made regarding Hungary’s domestic policies. In 2021, Rutte denounced Orban’s anti-LGBT legislation, saying Hungary “has no business being in the European Union anymore.” He added at the time that “the long-term aim” was to “bring Hungary to its knees” on the issue.

Earlier this year, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that Budapest “certainly couldn’t support the election of a person… who previously wanted to force Hungary on its knees.”

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at Monday's summit at the EU Council headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, June 17, 2024
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Viktor Orban reportedly said earlier this month he would drop his objections if Rutte apologized for his comments.

The Hungarian leader has also been a vocal critic of the bloc’s stance on Ukraine and of the policy of sending military aid to the country to help it fight Russia. In May, he threatened to “redefine” Hungary’s NATO membership. Last week Stoltenberg assured Orban that Hungary could opt out of the bloc’s Ukraine-related policies and that it would not be forced to participate in military action outside NATO territory.

On Monday, Rutte and Orban met at an EU summit in Brussels, after which the Dutch politician said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Hungary would drop opposition to his appointment, AFP reported.

The two men talked on the sidelines of an EU leaders dinner on Monday night, according to Financial Times.

Orban did not seek an apology, according to the AFP account of the meeting. Rutte made it clear that he had taken note of the “societal reaction” to his 2021 comments, the agency added.

Hungary’s prime minister reportedly told the NATO chief hopeful that he would back him if Rutte agreed to stick by the arrangement offered by Stoltenberg. Rutte promised that he would, Financial Times said.

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“If he’s ready to support [the deal], we can go for it,” Orban said, as quoted by AFP.

Another country that had been opposed to Rutte’s candidacy, Slovakia, reportedly signaled its support on Tuesday.

Romania, whose president Klaus Iohannis has campaigned for the NATO top job, has yet to publicly back Rutte.

June 18, 2024 at 05:26PM

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