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US envoy slams Hungarian govt for 'disregarding' interests of NATO allies

BUDAPEST, Dec 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. envoy to Budapest sharply criticised the Hungarian government on Tuesday for "disregarding" the interests of its NATO allies and strengthening ties with Russia at a time when its allies are isolating it.

In a speech at AmCham to U.S. companies that have invested in Hungary, Ambassador David Pressman said Hungary has thrived as a member of the European Union and NATO, allowing companies run successful businesses in the Central European country that joined the EU in 2004.

"Yet today, we are increasingly seeing an Ally that relies upon its NATO Allies, but feels comfortable disregarding the interests of those same Allies and our Alliance, including during a time of war in Europe," Pressman said.

"That disregard is evident when the prime minister embraces (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, when his government threatens to hold up crucially needed aid to its neighbor, Ukraine.... When independent media and civil society organizations are investigated and attacked."

Relations between Budapest and Washington have soured because of Hungary's foot-dragging over the ratification of Sweden's NATO accession and also over Prime Minister Viktor Orban's warm ties with Moscow despite the war in Ukraine.

Sweden's NATO membership is pending ratification by

Turkey and Hungary.

Pressman's criticism comes a week before a crucial EU summit due next week where Orban has demanded that European Union leaders should avoid any decision on Ukraine's coveted goal of getting a green light for membership talks even as the country fights Russia's invasion.

Budapest opposes Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but Orban has kept up close relations with Moscow - partly due to Hungary's continued energy dependence on Russia.

Pressman again raised deep concerns about a "sovereignty protection bill" drafted by Orban's ruling party that is waiting to be passed in parliament, saying it would create "a new domestic security agency, armed with unfettered and unchecked investigative powers." (Reporting by Krisztina Than Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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