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In Praise of Plain Speaking

Having gone so long without an ambassadorial presence in Hungary, albeit the void was ably filled by Chargé d’Affaires David Kostelancik, the United States appears to be wasting no time in making up for it now David B. Cornstein is here.

AmCham members got their first official look at the man – assuming they had not already done so at the Independence Day party in the ambassador’s residence just days after he arrived – on Tuesday, alongside his opposite number, the Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, László Szabó.

The ambassador was in a jovial mode, telling the business forum attendees they were his kind of people. “I have spent 40 years – actually more than that – in the business world. It is a pleasure not to be speaking to diplomats and politicians but to business people instead.”

Mildly upbraiding his audience for not doing more business (for more on this, see our report on page 11) he was refreshingly candid – reflecting, no doubt, his background in commerce rather than diplomacy.

“To become an ambassador of the United States, first you have to live long enough to get through the process,” he joked. You also have to attend what he called “ambassador school” for a month. Having done that, he was now standing here, doing his best, but half of his class from January were still waiting to take up post.

He encouraged business people to look not just at Hungary, but at the whole Central and Eastern European region. “All together, you have one hell of a market here, where things are going well; a big, big market.”

And he offered the help of the embassy to Hungarian businesses wanting to open up in the States as much as to U.S. firms looking to move into Hungary. “I don’t care where your business is from. We will open any door you need opened for you in America. We can even open government doors here, as well.”

He said a number of things, not least on Hungary’s dispute with Ukraine over the use of the Hungarian language in education, or the need to fix the future of the Central European University, that might have been uncomfortable for his opposite number (he even said the fact that Hungary is not better known “is the fault of Hungary, in my opinion”.) But there was also praise for a government Cornstein says is open to promoting business.

“I have now met with every person in this government, except for one, who is a fairly important guy [Prime Minister Viktor Orbán], and I meet with him next week.”

The goal of Cornstein’s tenure is very clear, he said. “The objective of the United States is to have a better relationship with this country.”

The blunt speaking ambassador might just be the man to deliver on that.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief