- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hungarian rhapsody

A month after President Bush’s visit to Budapest, Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi is still excited about both the substance and symbolism of the trip.

The ambassador applauded Mr. Bush for including Hungary on his trip to Austria for a June meeting with the leaders of the European Union. The visit coincided with Hungary’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of its ill-fated uprising against Soviet domination.

“I, as our ambassador, was honored to see him visit Budapest on my watch,” Mr. Simonyi told Embassy Row. He greeted Mr. Bush on June 22, saying, “Welcome to my hometown.”

Mr. Bush, on his first visit to Hungary, was impressed by the “grandeur of Budapest,” Mr. Simonyi said of the medieval city of 1.7 million on the banks of the Danube River that has been Hungary’s capital since 1361.

The president also attend a luncheon with 120 guests that included two heroes of the Hungarian revolution, Bela Kiraly, the general who commanded the Hungarian freedom fighters, and Imre Mecs, a student leader whom the Soviets sent to death row after crushing the uprising. Mr. Mecs, who received an amnesty in 1963, is now a member of the Hungarian parliament.

The United States and other Western nations failed to support the Hungarians when Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest in 1956.

“The lesson of ‘56 is that we must not fail to act when we can and should act,” Mr. Simonyi said. “The president’s message was that you can suppress freedom for some time but not forever.”

The ambassador noted that Mr. Bush’s visit also signaled U.S. support for Hungary’s transition from “a dictatorship to a democracy, from a command economy to a market economy.”

Hungary, now a member of NATO and the European Union, is also a strategic partner of the United States, Mr. Simonyi said. He added that Hungary joined the “coalition of the willing” by sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We also donated 77 mint-condition tanks that are now the pride of the Iraqi army,” he said. “When your country gets into NATO and the EU, your responsibility to the world increases.”

U.N. straw poll

A former Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States, who has spent months campaigning for the position of secretary-general of the United Nations, came in last among four candidates in a straw poll taken by the U.N. Security Council.

Jayantha Dhanapala, ambassador in Washington from 1995 to 1997, had been considered a front-runner to replace Kofi Annan, who retires in December after 10 years as secretary-general.

However, he trailed South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who finished first, Shashi Tharoor of India, head of the U.N. Department of Public Information, and Surakiart Sathirathai, deputy prime minister of Thailand.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is still confident that Mr. Surakiart will get the post, despite his third-place finish, Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said yesterday.

“It’s actually the first poll, and there will be another one at the end of August,” he told reporters at an ASEAN meeting in Malaysia.

Mr. Tharoor, who has worked at the United Nations for 28 years, also predicted that he will gain support.

“This ballot gives me a good basis on which to build, and I’m looking forward to increasing the support that may be available to me,” he said, also at the ASEAN meeting.

The 15-member Security Council will nominate a candidate who must be approved by the 192-member General Assembly.

In the straw poll Monday, Security Council members ranked the four men on the basis of whether their candidacies should be encouraged or discouraged. Mr. Ban got 12 positive votes. Mr. Tharoor got 10. Mr. Surakiart won seven, while Mr. Dhanapala received five endorsements.

The vote was supposed to be secret, but the results were leaked to U.N. reporters.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com

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