Hungary's Orban sees diplomatic reset with U.S. under Trump

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s diplomatic ties with the United States could improve markedly under Republican Donald Trump, Prime Minister Viktor Orban was quoted as saying on Friday after a telephone conversation with the U.S. president-elect.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a news conference after his meeting with Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Groysman in Budapest, Hungary, November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Orban, in power since a 2010 election landslide, has clashed several times with senior U.S. officials in recent years over sweeping reforms his critics say have undermined democratic checks and balances in the ex-communist nation.

In July the conservative premier became the first European leader to express a clear preference for “valiant” Trump and then said the foreign policy plans of Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, would be “deadly” for Hungary.

“I spoke on the phone with the new U.S. president and I can say that our position has improved remarkably,” Orban was quoted as saying in an interview by business daily Vilaggazdasag.

“Donald Trump has made it clear that he regards Hungary highly.”

Orban said Trump had invited him to Washington for talks at an unspecified date.

“I told him that I have not been there for a long time as I was regarded as a ‘black sheep’,” Orban was quoted as saying. “He laughed and said so was he.”

With Orban by her side at a news conference in 2011, then U.S. Secretary of State Clinton voiced concern about democratic freedoms in Hungary, a NATO ally, and said essential checks and balances should be bolstered.

Orban’s diplomatic spats with Washington have also included a ban on six Hungarian officials in 2014 from entering the United States over corruption allegations. The move was seen as another warning to Budapest to reverse policies Washington regarded as threatening democratic values.

Earlier this month Orban said the outcome of this month’s U.S. presidential election marked the end of a period of “liberal non-democracy”.

“I think that with Donald Trump, the United States will have a president who is not ideologically limited, that is, he is an open person, much more interested in success, efficiency and results than political theories,” Orban was quoted as saying.

“Economic co-operation has been good so far. It was only ideologies that posed obstacles,” Orban said, without elaborating.

U.S. companies have invested more than $9 billion in Hungary since the collapse of communism, but bilateral trade is low, with about 2 percent of imports and exports exchanged between the two countries per year.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Gareth Jones