U.S. calls ban on entry by six Hungarians a warning to clean up

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The United States said on Monday six Hungarians had been banned from entering the U.S. as a warning to Budapest to reverse policies that threatened to undermine democratic values.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech at an event of his ruling Fidesz party to celebrate the results of recent local government elections in Budapest October 19, 2014. The sign reads "Trust Fidesz!" REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

An American diplomat in Budapest said on Monday the individuals were public servants or people with government connections. Their banning last week came after a long series of warnings from Washington, the embassy said.

A 2004 Presidential proclamation allows the U.S. government to ban foreign nationals whose corrupt conduct hurts U.S. interests, without providing proof of the charges.

Corruption was one symptom of Hungary’s weakening democratic institutions, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend said.

“At a certain point, the situation, if it continues this way, will deteriorate to the extent where it is impossible to work together as an ally,” Goodfriend told reporters at a briefing on Monday.

“That’s what we want to avoid, because we are allies, we are friends, we are strong NATO partners, and we want to try to help Hungary avoid this downward trend in its own society, and this obstacle to good relations with us and with others.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, re-elected for another four-year term in April, said in a speech in July that he aimed to build an “illiberal state” in Hungary, citing Russia, China and Turkey among successful models.

“We have spoken about this for so long that at a certain point you have to decide if you believe these things, if they are more than words, what is the action you take?” Goodfriend said.

Orban’s chief of staff, Janos Lazar, told the Hungarian parliament’s national security committee the government was not privy to the details of the cases.

“The government of Hungary is somewhat baffled at the events that have unfolded because this is not the way friends deal with issues,” Lazar told the committee.

“If you say you have credible information on something and then talk about government officials, then you help Hungary only if you provide us whatever credible information you have,” Lazar said.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is due in Washington on Tuesday, where he is will meet Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, partly to talk about the issue.

Additional reporting by Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Larry King