FM Ashkenazi to Hungarian counterpart: US peace plan a ‘significant opportunity’

Gabi Ashkenazi meets with visiting Peter Szijjártó, urges Budapest to use its position on UN atomic watchdog’s board to hold Iran accountable for its ‘malign activities’

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, center, his Hungarian counterpart Peter Peter Szijjártó, left and Israeli Minister of Science and Technology Izhar Shay, right, give elbow bump greetings during their meeting, in Jerusalem, July 20, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP)
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, center, his Hungarian counterpart Peter Peter Szijjártó, left and Israeli Minister of Science and Technology Izhar Shay, right, give elbow bump greetings during their meeting, in Jerusalem, July 20, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP)

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó arrived at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem Monday to kick off a half-day visit to Israel.

After meeting with his Hungarian counterpart in Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said talks focused on cooperation between the two countries, as well as the Iranian nuclear threat and the US Middle East peace plan.

“Hungary understands Israel’s positions and that there are currently significant regional opportunities, most notably [US] President Trump’s peace initiative. It is an important milestone for the region, and it represents a significant opportunity,” Ashkenazi said at a press conference with Szijjártó.

Ashkenazi noted that Hungary is a board member of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which has reported that Iran is in breach of commitments it made under a 2015 pact with world powers and that has steadily unraveled since the US pulled out in 2018.

“The international community must hold Iran accountable, and act strongly against Iran’s malign activities,” Ashkenazi said.

Talks with Szijjártó were also attended by Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay. Ashkenazi said the countries signed two agreements, one awarding scholarships to Israeli students studying in Hungary, and the other to increase cooperation in space research.

The meeting also focused on expanding economic cooperation and the joint production in Hungary of ventilators used to treat coronavirus patients with serious symptoms, he said.

Ashkenazi said Israel and Hungary will work towards renewing travel and tourism between their countries. International travel has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Israel’s Airports Authority on Monday announced that it was extending until September a ban on arrivals of non-citizens which has already been in place for four months.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Peter Szijjártó, left meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanuyahu at hte Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, July 20, 2020. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

The Hungarian top diplomat later met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who expressed his appreciation for Hungary’s steadfast stand alongside Israel in international forums and in the European Union. In remarks before their meeting Netanyahu also said he hoped that relations between Budapest and Jerusalem would strengthen further in the coming years.

The two discussed regional issues including the threat Iran poses to the Middle East and the entire world, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement, as well as how their countries were dealing with the coronavirus, and economic policy in wake of the crisis.

Hungary is one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in the international community, and one of the few countries that did not openly speak out against Jerusalem’s recent intention to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank. Szijjártó has reiterated on several occasions that the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban will continue to stand up against one-sided condemnations of the Jewish state.

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto in his office in Budapest, Hungary, June 14, 2019. (Attila Kovacs/MTI via AP)

Szijjártó has also expressed rare praise for Trump’s proposal, saying in the past that the administration’s Mideast peace plan “is suitable for creating peace and stability in the region in the long term.”

However, officials in Jerusalem said Sunday that Netanyahu’s planned annexation, which has recently disappeared from the headlines amid a resurgent coronavirus and a hesitant White House, is not expected to feature prominently in Szijjártó’s discussions with his Israeli counterparts.

In February, Szijjártó, who has been foreign minister since 2014, signed an official document supporting Israel’s position that the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction to investigate possible war crimes committed in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Budapest “has doubts that Palestine fulfills all the constitutive elements of statehood, and hence the territorial jurisdiction of the Court does not necessarily extend to ‘occupied Palestinian territories,’” the document stated.

One of the three judges of an ICC pre-trial chamber currently weighing the question of jurisdiction, Péter Kovács, is a Hungarian national. But Israel does not intend to ask Szijjártó to get involved in the matter, officials in Jerusalem said.

Hungarian FM Péter Szijjártó and PM Benjamin Netanyahu open Hungary’s trade mission in central Jerusalem, March 19, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

In March 2019, Szijjártó ceremoniously opened a trade mission in Jerusalem, making Hungary the first and so far only EU member state to operate an office with diplomatic status in the capital.

Szijjártó is the fifth senior foreign dignitary to visit Israel since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year. He is not scheduled to visit the Palestinian territories.

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