Hungarian American Community Leaders Meet with President Bill Clinton

Representatives of six Hungarian American organizations met with President Bill Clinton on Friday, January 13, Cleveland, Ohio, following the President’s address to the White House Conference on Trade and Investment in Central and Eastern Europe.

Government and business leaders from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) attended the conference, whose purpose was to promote further trade and investment between the U.S. and the CEE countries.

Immediately after his address President Clinton reserved time for a private meeting with 29 leaders of U.S.-based organizations which represent the concerns of 14 different Central and East European ethnic communities, as well as with members of the ethnic press in the U.S.

The six Hungarian American participants, all members of the Hungarian American Coalition, included: George Dózsa, President, Hungarian Reformed Federation of America; László Hámos, President, Hungarian Human Rights Foundation; Frank Koszorus Jr., President, American Hungarian Federation of Metropolitan Washington, DC; Edith Lauer, President, Hungarian American Coalition; George Pogan of the Cleveland Hungarian Development Panel; and Péter Újvági, Toledo City Councilman and a leader of the Toledo Hungarian American community.

The Hungarian American leaders each had the opportunity to speak to the President and personally raise issues of concern to their community. President Clinton acknowledged that the rights of national minorities in CEE are an important consideration for U.S. policy in the region. The President asked his staff to review and respond to the request of two Hungarian American leaders that U.S. aid programs to CEE seek the active involvement of ethnic organizations in the U.S. as a way to make these programs more effective and efficient. In addition, he reaffirmed the importance of meetings such as this one, which continue the dialogue between Administration officials and ethnic organizations in the U.S.

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All those who wish more information are encouraged to contact the Hungarian American Coalition’s Washington office: 818 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 850, Washington, DC 20006, USA; telephone (202) 296-9505, telefax (202) 775-5175.

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The meeting with Clinton was preceded on Thursday by a two and one-half hour discussion with key Administration officials. Alexis Herman, Director, Office of Public Liaison, served as moderator. Those who addressed questions from the ethnic organization leaders include Ron Brown, Secretary of Commerce; Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs; Daniel Fried, Director of Central and Eastern European Affairs, National Security Council; Nicholas Burns, Senior Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasian Affairs; Donald Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary; and Alfred Moses, U.S. Ambassador to Romania.

The officials responded substantively to several issues raised by the Hungarian American leaders present, regarding U.S. aid programs and trade opportunities with CEE, as well as national minority rights.

Daniel Fried stated that the Clinton Administration has requested an increase in SEED funding from $359 to $390 million, and that constituents’ support for this proposal would be useful.

Ron Brown affirmed that the Commerce Department is reviewing ways to lower tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade with the CEE countries, but added that a policy to lower trade barriers must be “a two-way street.”

Ambassador Holbrooke responded to concerns about Administration policy regarding the plight of the 3.5 million Hungarians who live as minorities in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine. He emphasized that the minority issue is indeed of political, strategic, and moral importance to the U.S., and is frequently raised in bilateral meetings.

Mr. Fried added: “Governments that behave like bullies at home need not apply” for NATO membership.

Ambassador Moses, in turn, responded by citing cases in which he had criticized the inclusion of extremist nationalist parties in the Romanian government coalition.

On Friday evening a reception was co-sponsored by the Cleveland Magyar Club and the Cleveland Council of World Affairs. Members of the official Hungarian delegation had an opportunity to meet business leaders such as John Opie, President of GE Lighting; William Butler, Chairman and CEO, Eaton Corp., and Frank Rasmussen, Partner of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. Representatives of the state and city government, and members of Cleveland’s large Hungarian American community were also in attendance.

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