US Embassy Budapest Issues Alert on Railway Station, Silent on Refugee/Migration Crisis on Doorstep

Posted: 6:37 pm EDT
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The UNCHR in Budapest, Hungary writes that — an angry confrontation between police and refugees on a blocked train just outside Budapest; a makeshift camp of stranded Syrians, Afghans and others at the capital’s main railway station; more than 2,000 refugees crossing into the country from Serbia each day the contours of Europe’s refugee and migration crisis are growing and shifting.  It describes the concourse in front of the main Keleti train station in Budapest as resembling a sad, makeshift campsite. “More than 2,000 people slept there overnight, a few in small tents, some with blankets and air mattresses, many on the cement floor covered in nothing but their clothes.”
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On September 3, the U.S. Embassy in Hungary issued an alert concerning the migrants at the the Keleti Railway Station. This is about the only statement we could locate concerning the refugee crisis in its host country:

The U.S. Embassy advises all U.S. citizens in Hungary to be alert when traveling through the Keleti Railway Station (Palyaudvar).  Increasing numbers of migrants in and around the station have resulted in large crowds in public spaces.  Although these crowds have occasionally confronted police, demonstrations have been peaceful, and the presence of migrants has not led to a rise in crime, violent or otherwise.  However, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.  You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Rail passengers should be prepared to show their passports to be admitted to the trains and platforms.  Rail traffic to and from the station has been subject to significant delays.  In some cases, departures have been cancelled.

On the same day when Hungary was accused of inhumane treatment of refugees, Embassy Budapest tweeted this:

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A couple of weeks earlier, the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell toured Hungary’s majestic caves:

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An FB commenter writes to Embassy Budapest:

Ambassador Bell, by not speaking against Hungary’s regressive and inhuman actions on refugees you are proving all the charges that you are an ineffective diplomat and mere window dressing. Perhaps you should join Donald Trump’s campaign. Hungary needs to become the great country she could be, not revert to her infamous policies of the 20th Century.

Two days ago, this photo shocked the world:

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On September 3, the State Department spox tweeted this:

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The latest from Embassy Budapest today is learning more about programs that support the conservation of culture, urging,  “Follow !”

On Facebook, there is a ‪#‎USAfridayQUIZ‬.

That’s all.

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Our American Ambassadors — Just Saying Hello Collection (Videos)

Posted: 00:50 EST
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U.S. Ambassador to Moldova James Pettit

 

U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa Mark Gilbert

 

U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma

 

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US Embassy Hungary: DCM M. André Goodfriend to Depart Post After Only 18 Months

 Posted: 13:10 EST
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M. André Goodfriend has served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest since August 2013 . Pending the confirmation of the new ambassador, he was Embassy Budapest’s chargé d’affaires. Last month, he tweeted this:

 

 

On February 13, less than a month after Ambassador Bell’s arrival in Budapest, Mr. Goodfriend tweeted this:

 

Politics.hu notes that  the embassy’s twitter feed had not acknowledged Goodfriend’s departure. Neither the embassy website nor its Facebook page carried any announcement about his departure prompting an FB user to write:

No post about Mr. Goodfriend leaving Budapest? Why not? He has become a sort of iconic figure representing the tolerant and smart politics, which has been missing in and around Hungarian leadership. I think that it is a mistake to let him go. His political wisdom, experience and insight will be missed, I am sure.

Mr. Goodfriend is a career diplomat, and the typical length of assignments, particularly in European posts like Budapest is three years.  Budapest is a 5% COLA post, with zero hardship and zero danger pay.   It appears that Mr. Goodfriend is leaving post 18 months short of a full tour. We’ve asked the U.S. Embassy Budapest via Twitter and email the reason for this early departure and we were told by Embassy Spokesperson Elizabeth Webster on February 14 that they normally do not issue press releases when personnel depart post; however, they made  the following statement available to the media upon request:

“DCM Andre Goodfriend is departing his posting in Hungary to return to the United States for family reasons.  Mr. Goodfriend served nearly 18 months as chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest during a time of significant developments in Hungary and in our bilateral relations.  Enjoying the full support of senior leadership in Washington, he did an excellent job of promoting and explaining U.S. policy in public and in private.  We ask for the media to respect the privacy of the Goodfriend family.” 

 

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To Hungary, to Hungary in January — Ambassador Bell sworn-in

— Domani Spero
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We don’t know who administered the oath of office, it looks like that official was cut off from the photo below except for his arm. According to the official schedule, the swearing-in ceremony at the Department of State was attended by Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin but it was otherwise closed to the press.

High Drama in Hungary Awaits New American Ambassador

— Domani Spero
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This past October, the U.S. Embassy in Hungary released the following statement:

The U.S. Embassy is not aware of any NAV investigations into US businesses or institutions in Hungary and no U.S. actions have been taken as the result of any such investigations.

The U.S. takes corruption seriously.  The U.S. Department of Justice has established an anti-kleptocracy unit to expand capacity to pursue cases in which ill-gotten wealth overseas is found to have a U.S. connection.

Certain Hungarian individuals have been found ineligible to enter the United States as the result of credible information that those individuals are either engaging in or benefiting from corruption.  This was a decision by the Department of State under the authority of Presidential Proclamation Number 7750 and its Anti-Kleptocracy Provision of January 12, 2004.  Criminal proceedings are up to the host nation to pursue.  U.S. privacy laws prohibit us from disclosing the names of the individuals involved.

No one is above the law.  The United States shares Hungary’s view of “zero tolerance” of corruption.  Addressing corruption requires a healthy system of checks, balances and transparency.  The U.S. Government action related to Hungarian individuals is not a Hungary-specific measure, but part of an intensified U.S. focus on combating corruption, a fundamental obstacle to good governance, transparency and democratic values.

The Budapest Beacon reported that ten Hungarian officials and associates have been banned for travel to the United States including individuals close to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Yup, the same one Senator McCain called   a “neo-fascist dictator.  And the reason Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest was summoned to Hungary’s Foreign Ministry.

Last month, Hungary Today citing reports from Portfolio.hu has reported, said that the head of National Tax and Customs Administration of Hungary (NAV), Ildikó Vida had revealed that she and some of her colleagues are among those state officials that were banned by Washington from travelling to the United States.

 

 

Orbán also criticized Goodfriend for accusing a government official of corruption “while hiding behind diplomatic immunity”. Orbán called on Goodfriend to “be a man and take responsibility for his accusations” by agreeing to allow himself to be sued in a Hungarian court for defamation.

“In Hungary, if someone is proven to have been involved in corruption, we don’t replace that person but lock them up,” said the prime minister, neglecting to mention the fact that a similar fate awaits people convicted of defaming public officials.

Later in the day the head of the Fidesz caucus, Antal Rogán, an authority on corruption, told the Hungarian News Service that Goodfriend could prove to a Hungarian court of law if Vida was guilty of corruption, “but that this would first involve the US agreeing to lift his diplomatic immunity”.

Right and she did not want to be fired. As can be expected, the tax office (NAV) chief Ildikó Vida filed a defamation lawsuit against US embassy chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend.  According to Hungary Today, the complaint was filed with the prosecutor’s investigations office on the ground of “public defamation causing serious damage,” a NAV lawyer said.

 

 

The Financial Review notes that growing anti-government protests in the country may become another battleground between Europe and Russia.  Several protests in the last few months over corruption, internet tax plan, private pensions, etcetera.  The Review suggests that these protests against an  increasingly pro-Russian leadership, raised questions about whether the former communist nation could become the next Ukraine.

Amidst this, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Hungary, and The Colbert Report noticed.

 

Mr. Colbert notes that “The Bold And The Beautiful is perfect training to be an ambassador. Hungary is a region rife with drama and constant threat of violence — exactly the situation the Forrester family routinely handles from their palatial estate while simultaneously running their fashion empire.”

As if that’s not enough, there are also some suggestions floating around the net on how Viktor Orbán can best use the Colleen Bell fiasco to screw the US and its liberal allies in Hungary. It includes wining and dining, and those are the nicer parts.

Meanwhile, @GoodfriendMA is going about his business, checking out the Christmas markets in Budapest and awaiting the arrival of his new boss.

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Confirmations: House Packing Officially On For Noah Mamet (Argentina), and Colleen Bell (Hungary)

— Domani Spero
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All that hand wringing whether or not controversial Obama bundlers would get to post or not this year ends today. On December 2, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominees for ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary.

Ambassador-Designate Noah Mamet would replace Vilma Martinez who served in Buenos Aires from 2009-2013.  He will soon take up residence at Palacio Bosch, the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina designed by French architect René Sergent. The residence is considered Sergent’s finest work because of its stylistic unity and contextual relation to its environs, and according to State/OBO, was seminal to Argentine architectural taste.

Palacio Bosch via U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires

Palacio Bosch via U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires

The owner sold the residence to the United States Government in 1929 following recurrent propositions by U.S. Ambassador Robert Woods Bliss (Ambassador to Argentina from 1927-1933). Bliss, owner of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., who joined the Foreign Service in 1903 also purchased some of the furnishings, which he later donated to the residence. Major renovation of the building was undertaken in 1994. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ first totally historic restoration began, using many Argentine artisans and craftsmen who were direct descendants of the original experts. 40,000 ft² palace, lots of rooms but we don’t know the state of the bathrooms.

Embassy Buenos Aires acting ambassador has been Kevin K. Sullivan who began work as Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires since June 2013.  A career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, he was posted previously in Argentina from 1997-2000.  The Embassy Buenos Aires is up to speed and has already announced the confirmation of the new ambassador on its website, almost as soon as it happened.

Ambassador-Designate Colleen Bell would replace Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, who served as Ambassador to Budapest from 2010-2013. Not sure where is the ambassador’s residence there but she will soon hold office at the building at Szabadságtér 12 in Budapest’s Fifth District which has been home to the United States Legation and Embassy since 1935. It was designed by the architects Aladár Kármán and Gyula Ullman, who were hired by a commercial company called the Hungarian Hall of Commerce, Ltd., who had purchased the site on May 16, 1899.  According to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, during World War II, the Chancery Building operated under the Swiss Flag. There are stories that Jewish refugees were hidden in the lower levels of the building during the War. From November 4, 1956 to September 28, 1971, the Chancery also served as the home of Cardinal József Mindszenty, who took refuge there during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The Cardinal lived in what is now the Ambassador’s office.

Embassy Budapest’s second in command is M. André Goodfriend who has served as Deputy Chief of Mission since August 2013.  He previously served as the Consul General at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, from August 2009 until the embassy suspended operations in February 2012.

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Confirmations 11/20: Pettit, Spratlen, Krol, Moreno, Lu, Hartley, Controversial Nominees Up Next Month

— Domani Spero
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The U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominations by voice vote on November 20:

  • James D. Pettit, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Moldova
  • Pamela Leora Spratlen, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Uzbekistan
  • George Albert Krol, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Kazakhstan
  • Luis G. Moreno, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Jamaica
  • Donald Lu, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Albania
  • Brent Robert Hartley, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Slovenia

On November 18, the State Department spox, Jeff Rathke said that “The full Senate can consider each of these nominees quickly. Certainly, our career nominees could be confirmed en bloc, they’re well-qualified, and they’re experienced.”

We desperately need all of America’s team on the field of diplomacy, and these are all spectacularly qualified career nominees. This is exactly how our remaining nominations should be considered and confirmed. There are 19 career Foreign Service officers awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor. They were all carefully considered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and approved. The full Senate can consider each of these nominees quickly. Certainly, our career nominees could be confirmed en bloc, they’re well-qualified, and they’re experienced.A total of 58 State Department nominees, including 35 career diplomats, are still waiting.
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Nominees on the floor have waited for more than eight and a half months on average, 258 days. It’s critical, in the Department’s view, that we get these nominees confirmed before the Senate adjourns for the year to prevent further delay in meeting our foreign policy objectives, and while we appreciate the progress just made, we know that America is stronger if the backlog is cleared and our nominees are confirmed before Thanksgiving. The Secretary has made a personal plea to his former colleagues in the Senate, and we would ask again for their help.

On November 19, the spox tried again:

Yesterday, I began the briefing with a pitch for my fellow Foreign Service officers who have been waiting for Senate confirmation. Secretary Kerry called in from London to his chief of staff, David Wade, and he asked me to come out here again this afternoon and do the same. The Secretary has been in continued contact with his former colleagues on Capitol Hill about this. It’s very important to him. He needs to have his team and he also feels it’s important that these non-controversial nominees be confirmed before Thanksgiving as well. It’s the right thing to do for them, for their families, and for America’s interests.

On November 20, the spox tried once more to appeal that the nominees be confirmed “en bloc or by unanimous consent”to no avail:

We’ve asked the united – that the Senate confirm these nominations en bloc or by unanimous consent, as we’ve seen in some cases this week, particularly because there’s no objection to these highly qualified and dedicated nominees. We urge the Senate to confirm them quickly and put them to work for the country. We need it desperately.

 

It looks like that’s it for today.  Coming up next month, the nominations of the more controversial nominee to Argentina:

Plus the nominee for Hungary:

 

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15 Former AFSA Presidents Urge Senators to Oppose Confirmation of Ambassadorial Nominees to Norway, Hungary, and Argentina

— Domani Spero

On March 5, 2014, the AFSA Governing Board resolution says that “AFSA will send letters to the Senate and the White House expressing concern that the recent nominations for chief of mission positions in Norway, Hungary and Argentina appear to be based primarily on their status as financial contributors to political campaigns, which is in violation of the Foreign Service Act of 1980.” 

On Friday, March 7, fifteen former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Senators Reid, McConnell, Menendez, Corker, Franken, Klobuchar, McCain, Cardin, Mikulski, Warner, Kaine, Whitehouse  and others, urging the non-confirmation of President Obama’s nominees for ambassadors to Norway, Hungary and Argentina.

Screen Shot 2014-03-09

Below is an excerpt from their letter:

Among the nominees for ambassadorships currently under consideration by the Senate, three have generated considerable public controversy: George Tsunis (Norway), Colleen Bell (Hungary), and Noah Mamet (Argentina). The nominations of Mr. Tsunis and Ms. Bell have been forwarded to the full Senate by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association, the professional association and trade union of career members of the Foreign Service, we urge you to oppose granting Senate consent to these three candidates. Although we have no reason to doubt that the nominees are conscientious and worthy Americans, the fact that they appear to have been chosen on the basis of their service in raising money for electoral campaigns, with minimal demonstrated qualifications for their posts, has subjected them to widespread public ridicule, not only in the U.S. but also abroad. As a result, their effectiveness as U.S. representatives in their host countries would be severely impaired from the start. Their nominations also convey a disrespectful message, that relations with the host country are not significant enough to demand a chief of mission with relevant expertise.

These three nominations represent a continuation of an increasingly unsavory and unwise practice by both parties.  In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “The spoils or patronage theory is that public office is primarily designed for partisan plunder.”  Sadly it has persisted, even after President Nixon’s acknowledged rewarding of ambassadorial nominations to major campaign donors was exposed.
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During his 2008 election campaign, President Obama recognized the appropriateness of these guidelines, and promised to respect them. The time for the Senate to begin enforcing its own guidelines set forth in law for U.S. diplomatic chiefs of mission is now.  The nation cannot afford otherwise.

The signatories of the letter are Marshall Adair, Thomas Boyatt, Kenneth Bleakley, Theodore Eliot, Franklyn A Harris, William Harrop, Dennis Hays, J. Anthony Holmes, Lars Hydle, Susan Johnson, Alphonse La Porta, John Limbert, John Naland, Lannon Walker, and Theodore Wilkinson.

One scenario where this might get off  the hot topics column is if the nominees themselves recognize that their confirmation hearing performance and subsequent public ridicule would have an impact on their effectiveness as President Obama’s top representatives in their prospective host countries, and withdraw their names for consideration. This would be the less messy route, but we do not anticipate this happening or it would have happened already.

Another scenario is if we get to see more Senate confirmation hearings bungled under similar circumstances, with the accompanying public uproar, and more mockery from cable news and comedians day in and day out — which might, just might make President Obama think, “enough already.” If that happens, it might also forced him to  revisit his promise that “the days of Michael Brown, Arabian Horse Judge, are over.”  Well, that’s a lot of ifs and mights, so we’re not holding our breath.

There is, of course, the ultimate scenario that we have seen before, and no doubt, we’ll see again — Senators’ offices will acknowledge the former AFSA presidents’ letter and others like it, and then proceed to confirm the nominees (Senate holds for ambassadorial nominees seem reserved for nutty reasons like the case of an ancient boyfriend or the ethnic origin of the nominee’s wife). It is just a coincidence that some nominees are also contributors to the Senate Majority PAC, the party’s Senatorial Campaign, the party’s victory fund or even to the guys from the other party.  Oh, but we are extraordinarily special and exceptional that way — watch.

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