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Hungary Pledges to Keep Forces in Iraq - 2004-07-27

Hungary has pledged not to withdraw its forces from Iraq, despite growing public pressure to do so after a Hungarian soldier was killed and other Eastern European coalition members were kidnapped and murdered in separate incidents. Hungary earned praise for its decision from visiting Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said Hungary, despite mounting domestic pressure, will not withdraw its forces from Iraq before their mandate expires at the end of the year.

He spoke after Secretary Powell expressed gratitude for the assistance Hungary and nine other former Communist countries are providing to Iraq, Afghanistan or both.

"Your kind words about our contribution to the stabilization in Iraq or Afghanistan encouraged me to say that we are going to continue that," he said. "Our soldiers are there in Iraq with 300 troops, and our soldiers are now there in Afghanistan participating in the NATO mission in the extension of the NATO mission."

Mr. Kovacs said, while Hungary is willing to take part in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government was also eager to reap economic benefits from the reconstruction of the two countries.

He was referring to the billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts that will go to countries taking part in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Mr. Kovacs also used Mr. Powell's visit to ask for U.S. support in establishing an international institute on democracy in Budapest.

"I think we could discuss a project to establish in Budapest a kind of international institution for democracy in order to promote democracy, based on our experiences," he said. "Not only the experiences of Hungary that you praised, but also the experiences of other countries in the region."

Mr. Powell agreed, saying Hungary is well qualified to promote democracy, given its experience as the first Communist country to rise against Soviet domination in in a 1956 revolt, which was crushed by Russian forces.