U.S. President Donald Trump praised Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday, describing him as "like me, a little controversial", and brushing off concerns about threats to democratic norms in Hungary during Orban's tenure. We urge you to raise these issues in your meeting with the Prime Minister. Trump went on to warmly praise the Hungarian leader: "He's a respected man".
Asked about democratic backsliding in Hungary, Trump called Orban "a tough man", but added that he's "a respected man", too.
But there is an irony in Orban's stance against immigration, as he closes borders and calls for an "anti-immigration axis" with other populists in Europe.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hungarian human rights lawyer Marta Pardavi is anxious about where her country is heading. She's watched Viktor Orban's government demonize groups like hers - the Hungarian Helsinki Committee - which provides legal services for asylums-seekers and for Hungarians.
KELEMEN: Speaking via Skype, Pardavi says the Orban government has been passing laws that have no place in a democracy.
Of particular concern are the increasingly close ties between Hungary - a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member - and Russian Federation.
For his part, Orban reminded reporters "that so many Hungarians contributed to the tremendous progress of the United States".
John Yoo, the former Justice Department official who justified the torture of detainees under President George W. Bush, warned Trump against crossing the limits of presidential power.
Ahead of Monday's meeting, a bipartisan group of US senators on the Foreign Relations Committee wrote to Trump to ask him to urge Orban to return to the democratic roots and values that defined Hungary's post-Cold War relationship with the USA and Europe.
In 2017, Trump met in Manila with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has attacked USA security policies and launched a crackdown on illegal drugs that has claimed the lives of thousands of mostly poor drug suspects. On Monday that day had arrived and Trump received Orban at the White House for just over an hour. "Orban was essentially running a political platform on the basis of an anti-immigration message", said Berschinski, now a senior vice president at Human Rights First.
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Then again, Orban got to hear a cascade of praise from the United States president.
"The week that I was in Hungary, CNN published a poll showing that Hungarians had become the most anti-Semitic country in the whole of Europe", Foer said. And he was one of the first European Union heads of government to congratulate him, nearly euphorically, on his election in November 2016. "And his face was put against a black backdrop, and money was raining down".
CORNISH: Human rights activists are concerned about the signals Trump is sending with this meeting, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports. "Parallel societies? Muslim communities living together with the Christian community?"