U.S. ready to help Hungary build energy independence: diplomat

By Reuters

Dec 06, 2014 10:13 PM EST

The United States is willing to help Hungary and other European countries build energy infrastructure to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in Budapest André Goodfriend has told Nepszava newspaper.

"Relying on Russian sources threatens energy independence," Goodfriend told Nepszava in an interview published on Saturday. "We are ready to help the country build real energy independence."

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has drawn criticism from Western governments for trying to secure supplies of energy and trade for Hungary by doing deals with Moscow. Critics say he should not be cosying up to Russia when it has sent troops into Ukraine.

On Friday, Orban accused the European Union of sabotaging the Russian-backed South Stream gas pipeline project, which was scrapped this week in a setback to his strategy of closer ties with the Kremlin.

Hungary backed South Stream because it wanted a source of gas that did not go through Ukraine, a route vulnerable to disruption.

"With its eastern opening, Hungary clearly pursues an energy policy independent of the European Union," Goodfriend said. "The fact that they planned to build a second pipeline from Russia and they want to increase nuclear energy production, that is what threatens Hungary's energy independence."

Orban signed a 10 billion euro ($12.3 billion) construction-and-financing deal with Russian president Vladimir Putin this year to double the capacity of the country's Paks nuclear power plant with two new reactors.

Goodfriend said the United States had spoken to Hungary and other countries about the infrastructure needed - including liquefied natural gas terminals and interconnectors to national pipeline networks - to get multiple sources of oil and gas.

"Currently the pipeline goes one way (from Russia to Europe) which leaves both Europe and Hungary extremely exposed," he said. "If that changes, energy can arrive from the Middle East, even the United States."

A source with knowledge of the Hungarian government's plans on energy told Reuters on Friday that Budapest want to close the book on South Stream and look to Europe to help construct a unified European gas network.

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