Hungary, Sweden Agree on Defense Deal 02/23 06:52
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) -- The prime ministers of Hungary and Sweden
concluded a defense industry agreement on Friday that will expand Budapest's
fleet of Swedish-built fighter jets, paving the way for Hungary's likely
ratification of Sweden's long-delayed NATO bid.
The meeting in Budapest between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbn and
his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, came after months of heightened
tensions between the two countries over Hungary's refusal to give its backing
for Sweden to join NATO.
Kristersson made the trip to Hungary after repeated invitations to do so by
the Hungarian government, something Orbn had hinted would be a precondition
for his government endorsing Sweden's NATO bid.
Friday's defense agreement appeared to be a decisive point of reconciliation
between the two governments, and Orbn has indicated that his party is ready to
approve Sweden's bid on Monday.
In a news conference following their bilateral meeting, Kristersson said
Sweden would sell four Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripen jets to Hungary, expanding
its current fleet of 14 jets. Sweden will also extend support systems and
service provision for the jets.
"I strongly welcome this deepened cooperation on advanced fighting
capabilities," Kristersson said, adding that the Gripen jets are "a pride of
Orbn said the additional fighters "will significantly increase our military
capabilities and further strengthen our role abroad," and will grow Hungary's
ability to participate in joint NATO operations.
The agreement paved the way for Hungary's likely ratification of Sweden's
NATO bid on Monday, when a vote on the matter is scheduled in parliament.
Unanimous support among all NATO members is required to admit new countries,
and Hungary is the last of the alliance's 31 members that has still not given
During Hungary's more than 18 months of delays in scheduling a vote, Orbn
had said his government was in favor of bringing Sweden into NATO, but that
lawmakers in his governing Fidesz party were unconvinced -- offended by
"blatant lies" from some Swedish politicians that he said had cast doubt on
Hungary's democratic credentials.
Hungary's allies in NATO and the European Union had put increasing pressure
on Budapest to drop its opposition to Sweden's membership. Last weekend, a
bipartisan group of U.S. senators visited Hungary and announced they would
submit a joint resolution to Congress condemning alleged democratic
backsliding, and urging Orbn's government to immediately lift its block on
Sweden's trans-Atlantic integration.
Orbn's critics in the EU have alleged that he has stalled on Sweden's NATO
bid to extract concessions from the bloc, which has frozen billions in funding
to Hungary over alleged breaches of rule-of-law and democracy standards. The EU
has demanded that Budapest take steps to safeguard judicial independence and
human rights and tackle corruption.
Hungary's government has railed against Swedish officials that supported
freezing the funds, and blamed them for a breakdown in trust between the two
On Friday, Orbn said that while Hungary and Sweden don't agree on all
issues, building trust was essential to his country supporting Sweden's joining
of the alliance.
"To be a member of NATO together with another country means we are ready to
die for each other," he said. "A deal on defense and military capacities helps
to reconstruct the trust between the two countries."