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Hungary takes a stand for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence but will keep monitoring its policies affecting minorities, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said. Hungary will continue blocking NATO-Ukraine Committee meetings as long as Ukraine systematically curbs the rights of ethnic Hungarians living there, Szijjártó told reporters in a break during a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. “We are under great pressure to give up our position. But if we give it up, we will have no other tool for protecting the interests of ethnic Hungarian communities,” he added.

Guaranteeing minority rights is part and parcel of security and stability, and it is no accident that Ukraine committed itself in its annual national programme to maintaining, expanding and respecting minority rights, he added. Hungary will surrender its veto only if Ukraine takes steps to restore the rights of ethnic Hungarians as enshrined in bilateral agreements and international legal regulations, Szijjártó said. The ball is in Ukraine’s court, he added.

Commenting on talks with his Macedonian counterpart, Szijjártó said that in line with Hungary’s position, the asylum request of former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was a legal matter and the authorities acted independently from the government. At the same time, he confirmed Hungary’s endeavour for maintaining and further strengthening political cooperation between the two countries.

Szijjártó expressed hope that once the debate about Macedonia’s name has been finished, the process of that country’s NATO accession can be completed early next year. He said Hungary would grant approval for a new Macedonian ambassador in Budapest in an accelerated procedure. The minister added that political cooperation between the two countries is seen as a priority, especially considering Macedonia’s role in halting the waves of migrants.

Commenting on Georgia, which was also represented in the talks, Szijjártó said “it is time for NATO to launch the membership action plan”. There is no legal or security obstacle to inviting Georgia for the membership action plan, he added. It is regrettable that the gaps between positions on this issue have not narrowed, he said.

Commenting on the target for NATO member states to spend 2% of GDP on defence by 2024, he said Hungary had started an ambitious military development programme so it had no reason to be ashamed. It has ordered two airbus helicopters, bought reconnaissance and training aircraft from the Czech Republic. Further, it will start manufacturing small arms in line with a Czech licence from January and develop closer military cooperation with Turkey. Hungary will fulfil the defence spending target, as well as the target that development should make up at least 20% of defence spending, before 2024, he said.

Szijjártó said NATO’s involvement in the fight against terrorism must be beefed up. One of the consequences of terrorism is that large masses of illegal migrants are moving around globally and in the territories concerned the number of crimes and aggressive acts have radically increased. As a consequence, the fight against terrorism and illegal migration must be kept on the agenda, he said.