- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Hungary in Iraq

Hungary is considering sending troops to help with the reconstruction of Iraq, the Hungarian economic minister said yesterday.

Istvan Csillag said his country’s parliament is debating whether to support the government’s position and send a transportation brigade of armed drivers or endorse the opposition’s call for peacekeepers and humanitarian aid.

“They need drivers,” Mr. Csillag told reporters over breakfast at Ambassador Andras Simonyi’s residence.

Hungary believes it can provide broader assistance toward the redevelopment of Iraq because Hungarian companies helped build part of the power system in Baghdad and other cities more than 15 years ago, Mr. Csillag said.

Hungary also is owed about $150 million from the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein and is considering whether to write off the debt in return for reconstruction contracts.

“That’s part of the discussion,” Mr. Csillag said.

Part of the reason for Mr. Csillag’s visit to Washington yesterday was to discuss the role Hungary could play in postwar Iraq, as well as to further U.S.-Hungarian trade ties.

Mr. Csillag met yesterday with Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, members of Congress and officials at the National Security Council and the State Department to update them on Hungary’s economic reforms as it prepares to join the European Union.

Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, whose Socialist Party formed a coalition with the Free Democrats, is removing many of the final economic barriers inherited after the fall of communism.

Mr. Csillag said his government is promoting an investment policy called “Smart Hungary” that will streamline government regulations for foreign and domestic companies to encourage investment.

One element of the policy involves doing away with taxes on the profits of foreign firms if they reinvest the money in Hungary, he said.

Hungary, one of Europe’s top exporting nations, is suffering a “mild recession” because of economic slumps in its Nos. 1 and 2 markets, Germany and the United States, he said.

Hungary also is reducing taxes on interest payments to encourage private savings.

The Heritage Foundation’s “Index of Economic Freedom” ranks Hungary 44th among the world’s nations, declaring the economy to be “mostly free.”

“Thanks to consistent liberalization and a predictable exchange-rate policy, Hungary now attracts one-third of Central and Eastern Europe’s total foreign direct investment,” the foundation said in its latest report.

Thanks for NATO vote

Most advocacy groups lobby lawmakers when they want something or castigate Congress when they disagree with it. Rarely do they organize a letter-writing campaign to thank Congress for doing something right.

The Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) is urging its membership to thank the Senate for its unanimous approval of the expansion of the NATO treaty, which will authorize the enlargement of the alliance to include seven new nations.

JBANC also is urging its supporters to thank President Bush, who expressed support for a Europe “whole and free” from the Baltics to the Black Sea.

“Please thank your senator and the president for supporting this round of NATO enlargement to include the Baltic countries in the transatlantic alliance,” the group said in a statement.

The Senate vote 96-0 on May 8 to invite the three Baltic nations — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — plus Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia to join NATO. They are expected to be admitted to the alliance next May.

JBANC said special recognition should go to Republican Sens. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader; Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; George Allen of Virginia, chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on European affairs; George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon. JBANC also recognized Democratic Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois for their leadership roles.

The group also urged its members to thank Mr. Bush “for his vision and leadership during this round of NATO expansion.”

JBANC represents the Estonian American National Council, the American Latvian Association and the Lithuanian American Council.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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