Remarks to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Hungarian Parliament

Chairman Nemeth, Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, distinguished guests, thank you for asking me to speak to you.  It is an honor.  Our custom of talking together today is as old as our friendship as nations.  I look forward to a frank and friendly discussion with you and the distinguished members of this Committee.

I came to Hungary in January 2015.  Since my arrival during those frozen weeks of winter, I have worked with you, with this government, with the opposition, and with Hungarians in all walks of life, so that together, out of that winter, we would force the spring.

Our collective effort has succeeded.  I am here this morning to honor the good will, and the good work, achieved between us.

I have talked with many of you over the past year and a half, and I have listened to you.  I have also offered public remarks from time to time.  Whether sitting down with you in your office, or standing at a podium, I have said what the United States and Hungary know to be true – that our bilateral relationship is on solid ground, that we say frankly to each what must be said, and that we depend on the stability and strength that each one gives the other.

You may know the old joke about the fish who was asked one day, “So, how’s the water?”  And the fish replied, “Water?  What the heck is water?”  This is how our alliance feels to us both, like the water we swim in, scarcely felt but all around us, our life support, our milieu.

Our situation as NATO allies is the envy of the world.  Sitting here in this golden Parliament, exchanging views in respectful and principled terms, we listen, we negotiate, we disagree at times, at other times we call on each other for help.  We do all of that, and we always come back to the table to resume our conversation – that is a splendid thing.  That is the nature of an alliance.

Hungary and the United States are part of the world’s greatest military and political alliance, meaning we will always be able to sit down to reason together and to solve problems together, and that our long and civil conversation as friends will not just endure—it will flourish.

Many nations in the world cannot yet do the same thing we are doing today.  We have done it for years; we even make it look easy.  We are fortunate to meet as friends, and to work together as friends.  Hungary and the United States share the view that our alliance is the cornerstone of our security, and that together, we secure a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.  That is why our two militaries conduct joint exercises so often and so flawlessly, why the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest is such a success story, and why our security, defense, and law enforcement cooperation works so well.

As an alliance, we in NATO have the tools that create change for the better – the power and might of our shared purpose and resources, and the wisdom of our experience and our values.  As the American poet, Anne Bradstreet, said, “Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than polish.”

The reason I mention our alliance – the water we swim in – is that, in this world, things can and do change in just a second or two.  We know this because we all saw events in Paris, and Brussels, and San Bernardino, and Ankara.  Our shared assessment of global security has perhaps had to become more pessimistic – but we have also become more adept and ingenious about what we can do together to lay the groundwork for security and stability for decades to come.  As we prepare to meet at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, it is worth considering that this alliance is far more durable than any challenge of the day – and far more flexible.  I would like to mention our shared understanding of a few of these challenges.  What we talk about here today are some problems and threats felt far from Budapest, but some, too, are right outside these doors.  The efforts we resolve to take up as allies are also felt in those distant places where our help and influence are so powerfully needed.

First, our common purpose is the basis of what Hungary, the United States, and 64 other countries do as partners in the Counter-ISIL Coalition.  You may know that the most recent country to join that coalition is Afghanistan.  Afghanistan was the recipient of support from the Hungarian military and the other Resolute Support Mission members, and is now participating with us in the global effort to combat Daesh.

Why do I start with the Counter-ISIL Coalition?  Because it is a partnership, and because it is a success.

The coalition contends with Daesh’s campaign of terror, something that extends beyond national boundaries.  Daesh also exploits the chaos of civil war in Syria, a conflict that has now claimed more than 250,000 lives.  Those two threats – one a stateless, itinerant carnage, the other a five-year civil war perpetuated by a dictator – have catalyzed the gravest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II.  That crisis is a problem that we know well here.  Just as, here in Europe, we revitalize NATO’s commitment to the defense of its own members, we rally our allies to support Ukraine, and we penalize Russia for its actions in Ukraine, we also confront ISIL and violent extremism together.

The unity and common purpose of the Counter-ISIL Coalition is working.  That includes the critical part Hungary plays in its mission in Erbil.  Together, we go after their fighters with more than 10,000 air strikes to date.  Together, our coalition has pushed terrorists out of about 40 percent of the territory that they once controlled in Iraq and 20 percent in Syria.  We are hammering Daesh’s heavy weapons, its training camps, its supply routes, its infrastructure.  The coalition has provided humanitarian relief to millions.  The United States has given over $5 billion in assistance to victims of the Syrian conflict.  We are also destroying Daesh’s economic lifeline—their oil production, refineries, and illicit banking.  Because Daesh, without cash from oil, can’t pay its fighters, which means less bloodshed and fewer lives lost.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reminded us that Daesh’s numbers are the lowest they’ve been since 2014.  But as he says, we know we won’t be able to defeat Daesh in Syria unless we also deal with the civil war and particularly with Assad.  Because as long as Assad is there, he remains the most powerful magnet for foreign fighters and recruits to Daesh.

Since February, the cessation of hostilities reduced the violence in Syria, allowing millions of Syrian civilians to take the first steps toward reclaiming a normal life.  Relief agencies began distributing humanitarian assistance to many communities in desperate need.  The opposition is willing to engage on a common agenda aimed toward a political transition, which Russia has also endorsed.  The opposition has shown unity of purpose and has complied with the cessation of hostilities.  The Assad regime needs to show that it is prepared to do the same.

That transition is critical, because as diplomats and statesmen, our goal is not just to build a coalition.  It is also to make it possible for people to live peacefully in their own countries, in their own homes, and not feel compelled to flee.  Thus the refugee crisis is not just a Syrian problem, not just a Daesh problem, nor a European, nor an African problem.  It is a global challenge, and it tests our values and our humanity.

In the past year, with record numbers of migrants and refugees seeking safety away from Syria and other areas of conflict, Hungary has faced difficult choices.  Let me repeat what I have said on many different occasions: Every sovereign nation has the right and an obligation to protect its borders.  But every nation, as a part of the international community, also has a fundamental obligation to help refugee populations seeking safety.  We commend the humanitarian spirit of Hungarian leaders, law enforcement and military personnel, and ordinary citizens who are responding to this crisis with generosity and compassion.  We continue to stress that any solution to these migration challenges should focus on saving and protecting lives, ensuring the human rights of all migrants are respected, and promoting orderly and humane migration policies.  That includes the support of all Member State governments for the refugee agreement forged between the EU and Turkey.

And that is the nature of political courage – helping the many who need help, with unity and a common purpose.  It is what Keith Ellison, the first Muslim-American elected to the United States Congress, meant when he said:  “Our democracy is not something to be taken for granted.  You have to fight for it.  You have to commit yourself to working for it – for the long haul.”

So we consider what happens in Europe in light of its ties to the rest of the world, especially Syria.  What happens here among us, the decisions made particularly about migration, will continue to be felt in some very desperate corners of the world.

Another touchpoint in our shared fight for democratic values is in unwavering support for Ukraine.

As many Hungarians have reminded me, you need no introduction to the nature of Russian aggression.  Your response has always been to show resolve.  Our best weapons, in fact, are resolve and solidarity.  They speak to our unity and our common purpose.  Europe and the United States are going to continue to stand united, sustaining sanctions for as long as they are necessary, and providing assistance to Ukraine until full implementation of the Minsk agreement.

Sanctions are not an end in themselves.  As in the breakthrough that Secretary Kerry achieved recently with the Iran nuclear agreement, sanctions don’t last forever—but they do pave the way to positive change.  Hungary has made economic sacrifices to support Russian sanctions, and you have done so with the full awareness of their greater purpose.  We in the international community know that sanctions are having a direct impact on Russia.

As the United States and Hungary have both stated many times, Russia has a simple choice: fully implement Minsk or continue to face sanctions.  Russia must withdraw weapons and troops from the Donbas; Russia must ensure that all Ukrainian hostages are returned; Russia must allow full humanitarian access to occupied territories; Russia must support free, fair, and internationally-monitored elections in the Donbas under Ukrainian law; and most important, Russia must restore Ukraine’s sovereignty.

By the same token, Ukrainians still have work to do as well.  As Assistant Secretary Nuland made clear, our ability to support Ukraine depends upon the commitment of its leaders to put their people and country first.  All those who call themselves reformers must clean up corruption, restore justice, and liberalize their economy.  2016 can and should be the year Ukraine breaks free from what Nuland called “the unholy alliance of dirty money and dirty politics.”  These reforms touch on Ukraine’s energy sector, the appointment of a new prosecutor and a stronger judiciary, the privatization of state-owned enterprises, a more powerful service sector, and a modernized defense ministry.

In addition to our joint focus on Ukraine, the United States has significantly transformed our commitment to European security.  The European Reassurance Initiative—or ERI– represents a fourfold increase in our spending, from just under $790 million to $3.4 billion.  ERI will allow us to maintain a division’s worth of equipment in Europe and an additional combat brigade in Central and Eastern Europe, letting us do even more training here in Hungary, and making our support – and NATO’s – more visible and more tangible.

As Secretary Kerry said recently in Munich, in every decade since its founding, the EU has been tested by forces – internal and external – that benefited from a house divided.  But Europe is going to emerge stronger than ever – provided that it stays united.

Throughout all this work together, we continue to build on our unparalleled economic partnership.  We will spur growth and new jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.  And concluding negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will strengthen our economies.

Contrary to popular myth, nothing in T-TIP requires Europe to reduce or to undo important regulations or to weaken existing standards.  On the contrary, the agreement will underscore our support for high environmental and labor standards in trade agreements.  So T-TIP can showcase the dynamism of our form of democracy and of free markets, and demonstrate the preeminence of free trade.

We will also continue to build on our commitment to address climate change.  On April 22, your President was one of over 50 heads of state among leaders from 171 countries to sign the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the United Nations in New York.  We are grateful for Hungary’s signature and high-level commitment.  We encourage Hungary to continue its leadership role and become one of the first EU member states to ratify the Agreement.  We understand that the EU will join the Agreement as a bloc, and we encourage the European Union to do so as quickly as possible.

I have touched on a few of the security and foreign policy issues that matter deeply to both our countries.  Hungary has all the imagination, vision, and understanding to contribute substantially to collective security, to endow the global economy with its resources and its enterprise, and to broker solutions to conflicts that defy other statesmen.  Whether it is the moral resolve that drives European unity on sanctions or the material sacrifice of investing more in your country’s defense to meet the pledge of the Wales Summit, Hungary is striving to meet some of the most critical challenges of the day.

More than this, Hungary is equal to the great challenges of our times, and the United States is counting on you.  Seventy-five years ago, refugees were streaming not into Europe, but out of Europe.  Fifty years ago, half of Europe lived behind the Iron Curtain.  A quarter of a century ago, Europe was witness to a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing.  As Secretary Kerry has reminded us, this moment is not as overwhelming as people think.  Our system of international economic, political, and social norms and institutions have kept the peace and fostered prosperity for decades.  Whether it is international law, environmental protection, trade regulations, anticorruption laws, child labor laws, human rights safeguards, the nonproliferation regime, public health systems, international financial institutions, UN peacekeeping, or a robust civil society – these norms and institutions give life and stability to our global order.  They still provide the best and sometimes the only means to prevent conflict, to spark progress, and to allow countries diplomatically and peacefully to resolve their differences.  Our burden as allies is to adapt our global order to suit this young century, while also seeing that its scaffolding – the rules, the norms, the principles we depend on for our security and prosperity – stays firmly in place.

It is worth reminding ourselves on this day in spring how much we have in common, how much promise is in our hands, and what reasons we have for optimism.  Today, as British Prime Minister David Cameron says, hundreds of millions dwell in freedom, from the Baltic to the Adriatic, from the Western Approaches to the Aegean.  Today, our alliance is the envy of the world because we are more eager to agree than to disagree, and willing to support our principles with our vigilance and action.

Our commitment to NATO is a demand the future makes of us, and it gives us hope.  We know what needs to be done, and most importantly, we have the power to do it.  Our vigilance and our friendship are the guarantees of our future.

Thank you very much.