- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

Pledging allegiance

The Hungarian defense minister yesterday told U.S. officials that his country remains committed to victory in Iraq and Afghanistan and called for even stronger military ties between Hungary and the United States.

“I’ve come to Washington to cement and broaden the military cooperation between the United States and Hungary and to confirm the strong relationship between the two countries,” Imre Szekeres told Embassy Row.

In meetings with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, he proposed Hungary as a base for American C-17 cargo planes that serve Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Hungary will continue training Iraqi forces in Iraq,” he said, adding that Hungarian troops are set to take over security next year at the Afghan airport that serves the capital, Kabul.

Mr. Szekeres said U.S. officials thanked his country for their efforts in both countries.

“It is very important to hear acknowledgment of Hungary’s contributions,” he said.

Mr. Szekeres also tried to ease U.S. concerns about Hungarian talks with Russia over energy supplies.

The Hungarian government has discussed plans for a gas pipeline to be built by Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom energy giant, drawing criticism from the European Union, which also plans a gas pipeline called Nabucco.

Washington is concerned that Hungary could fall under Moscow’s political influence if the country depends too much on Russian energy supplies. Last year Russia cut off supplies to Ukraine and threatened to stop deliveries to Belarus until both countries agreed to pay higher energy prices.

Mr. Szekeres said he told Bush administration officials that his government has made no final decision and is exploring its options.

“I made it very clear that if it is necessary to choose one over the other, we would choose Nabucco,” he said, referring to the EU project.

“It is important we cooperate with Russia in terms of energy,” he added. “We would like to diversify. We are following both projects.”

Mr. Szekeres said he explained that his personal preference is for more nuclear power plants.

Coalition still willing

U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow returns tonight on drums, as the Coalition of the Willing rock ‘n’ roll band created by Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi holds a special benefit performance in New York.

“I can tell you the Coalition is as strong as ever,” Mr. Simonyi said of his band, which has featured special guest musicians like Hungarian-born Tommy Ramone of the rock band, the Ramones.

Mr. Vershbow, now ambassador to South Korea, is a regular with the band when he is stateside. He was in Washington this week for consultations.

The benefit will raise money to help musicians who were victims of Hurricane Katrina, said Mr. Simonyi, who plays electric guitar and often philosophizes about the positive influence of western rock music on youths like him as they grew up in communist countries.

“Rockin’ in the Big Apple for the Big Easy” is a benefit for the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. at the Cutting Room, 19 West 24th St.

Map of America

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will bring a piece of American history with her when she arrives in Washington for Monday’s summit of U.S. and European Union officials.

She will present the 500-year-old map drawn by German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller in April 1507 to the Library of Congress, which purchased the wall-sized map for $10 million from a German prince whose family held it in a private collection.

The map was the first to depict clearly the Western Hemisphere as separate continents and to use the name, America, after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci. It is sometimes called “America’s birth certificate.”

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

washingtontimes.com.

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