Senior U.S. lawmakers asked Hungary on Feb. 1 to "immediately approve" Sweden's NATO membership bid, warning of "permanent damage" to the relationship between Budapest and Washington, according to Reuters.
Sweden and Finland applied to join the alliance in 2022 after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but accession was held up by objections from Turkey and Hungary. While Turkey formally ratified Sweden's NATO membership on Jan. 25, Hungary remains the only NATO member yet to approve Sweden's accession application.
Reuters said this has "frustrated NATO allies who see Sweden as an important country for Baltic security."
"I have deep concerns over the direction of Hungary's current government," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Ben Cardin, noting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's delay on EU aid for Ukraine and blocking of Sweden's NATO bid.
EU aid for Ukraine, known as the Ukraine Facility, worth 50 billion euro ($54 billion), was approved on Feb. 1, after Orban "begrudgingly signaled his willingness to drop his opposition to the aid package."
"Partners don't do these things. And I am questioning whether they are a trusted ally for our visa waiver program," Cardin said, referring to the visa program that enables most citizens of the participating 41 countries to travel to the U.S. for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.
Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Thom Tillis, a Democrat and a Republican, respectively, who co-chair the Senate's NATO Observer Group, issued a joint statement asserting that "Hungary's inaction risks irrevocably damaging its relationship with the United States and with NATO."
After Turkey's parliament voted to approve Sweden's accession to the alliance last week, Orban "reaffirmed" his government's support of Sweden's bid to join NATO after a phone conversation with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Orban said that he would "continue to urge" Hungary's parliament "to vote in favor of Sweden's accession and conclude the ratification at the first possible opportunity."
The ratification process in the Hungarian parliament has not moved forward since then.
Hungary ratified Finland's accession to the alliance nine months after the original application but only after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara would support the bid.