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Hungary, Sweden Agree on Defense Deal  02/23 06:52


   BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) -- The prime ministers of Hungary and Sweden 
concluded a defense industry agreement on Friday that will expand Budapest's 
fleet of Swedish-built fighter jets, paving the way for Hungary's likely 
ratification of Sweden's long-delayed NATO bid.

   The meeting in Budapest between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbn and 
his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, came after months of heightened 
tensions between the two countries over Hungary's refusal to give its backing 
for Sweden to join NATO.

   Kristersson made the trip to Hungary after repeated invitations to do so by 
the Hungarian government, something Orbn had hinted would be a precondition 
for his government endorsing Sweden's NATO bid.

   Friday's defense agreement appeared to be a decisive point of reconciliation 
between the two governments, and Orbn has indicated that his party is ready to 
approve Sweden's bid on Monday.

   In a news conference following their bilateral meeting, Kristersson said 
Sweden would sell four Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripen jets to Hungary, expanding 
its current fleet of 14 jets. Sweden will also extend support systems and 
service provision for the jets.

   "I strongly welcome this deepened cooperation on advanced fighting 
capabilities," Kristersson said, adding that the Gripen jets are "a pride of 

   Orbn said the additional fighters "will significantly increase our military 
capabilities and further strengthen our role abroad," and will grow Hungary's 
ability to participate in joint NATO operations.

   The agreement paved the way for Hungary's likely ratification of Sweden's 
NATO bid on Monday, when a vote on the matter is scheduled in parliament. 
Unanimous support among all NATO members is required to admit new countries, 
and Hungary is the last of the alliance's 31 members that has still not given 
its backing.

   During Hungary's more than 18 months of delays in scheduling a vote, Orbn 
had said his government was in favor of bringing Sweden into NATO, but that 
lawmakers in his governing Fidesz party were unconvinced -- offended by 
"blatant lies" from some Swedish politicians that he said had cast doubt on 
Hungary's democratic credentials.

   Hungary's allies in NATO and the European Union had put increasing pressure 
on Budapest to drop its opposition to Sweden's membership. Last weekend, a 
bipartisan group of U.S. senators visited Hungary and announced they would 
submit a joint resolution to Congress condemning alleged democratic 
backsliding, and urging Orbn's government to immediately lift its block on 
Sweden's trans-Atlantic integration.

   Orbn's critics in the EU have alleged that he has stalled on Sweden's NATO 
bid to extract concessions from the bloc, which has frozen billions in funding 
to Hungary over alleged breaches of rule-of-law and democracy standards. The EU 
has demanded that Budapest take steps to safeguard judicial independence and 
human rights and tackle corruption.

   Hungary's government has railed against Swedish officials that supported 
freezing the funds, and blamed them for a breakdown in trust between the two 

   On Friday, Orbn said that while Hungary and Sweden don't agree on all 
issues, building trust was essential to his country supporting Sweden's joining 
of the alliance.

   "To be a member of NATO together with another country means we are ready to 
die for each other," he said. "A deal on defense and military capacities helps 
to reconstruct the trust between the two countries."

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