US lawmakers call on Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán to immediately approve Sweden’s NATO membership

BUDAPEST, Hungary — A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers are urging Hungary to immediately ratify Sweden’s application to join NATO, saying patience with the Central European country is “wearing thin” as it continues to delay its approval for the Nordic nation.

Hungary is the only country in the 31-nation military alliance that hasn’t yet backed Sweden’s membership bid, and frustration has mounted within NATO as Budapest has repeatedly pushed back a vote on ratification for more than a year.

In a joint statement released Thursday, U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, and Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, called on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to “advance Sweden’s accession protocols to NATO without further delay,” and said continuing to hold up the process would harm Budapest’s relations with its allies.

“Despite its numerous prior public commitments, Hungary is the last remaining NATO member to have not ratified Sweden’s bid and both time and patience are wearing thin. Hungary’s inaction risks irrevocably damaging its relationship with the United States and with NATO,” the senators wrote.

Orbán, a staunch nationalist that has led Hungary since 2010, has long promised that his country wouldn’t be the last NATO member to approve Sweden’s application. But as Turkey’s parliament voted to back Stockholm’s bid in January, attention has shifted to Budapest as NATO members seek to expand the alliance amid Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

A vote on the protocols for Sweden’s NATO accession hasn’t yet appeared on the Hungarian parliament’s agenda, and the matter is unlikely to go before lawmakers until at least late February when the parliament reconvenes.

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In a separate statement, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised the prospect of imposing sanctions on Hungary for its conduct, and called Orbán “the least reliable member of NATO.”

Cardin said that the Biden administration should examine whether Hungary should continue to participate in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows passport holders from 41 countries to enter the United States for business or tourism without a visa for up to 90 days.

He also said that “given the level of corruption” in Hungary, the U.S. should examine initiating sanctions against Hungarians under the Global Magnitsky Act, a program that allows Washington to sanction foreign individuals for human rights and corruption violations.

Cardin said he was “grateful” that the European Union on Thursday approved a 50-billion euro ($54 billion) aid package to Ukraine, but noted that it had only done so by overcoming a veto by Orbán that had threatened to derail the funding.

Orbán had opposed financing the aid through the EU’s common budget, but ultimately consented to the measure under pressure from othe leaders in the 27-nation bloc.

Speaking in an interview with state radio on Friday, Orbán, seen by his critics as the Kremlin’s closest EU ally, cast doubt on Ukraine’s ability to defeat Russia’s invasion.

“Westerners still think that time is on our side, that the longer the war lasts, the more Ukraine’s military situation will improve. I think the opposite is true,” he said. “I think that time is on the side of the Russians, and the longer the war lasts, the more people will die, and the balance of power will not change in Ukraine’s favor. Then why do we continue the war?”

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