Hungary wishes to have strategic cooperation with Croatia and deal with problems through direct talks rather than through the media, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Thursday.

I look at our relations as strategic relations. We were not pleased with our bilateral relations during the term of the previous Croatian government. Remember that the former prime minister (Zoran Milanovic) compared Hungary to the grimmest dictatorship in the last century, which was something that we could not accept and we dismissed it. We have a much better cooperation with the new government, we do not accuse each other and we have agreed to try and resolve our disputes and possible conflicts, but not in public. We will first talk directly and try to reach an agreement because it makes no sense to communicate through the media and not personally. Communication through the media can only further aggravate our bilateral relations, which is something we would like to avoid, the Hungarian foreign ministers told a group of Croatian reporters on the margins of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac, who was also attending the NATO meeting, was asked to comment on Szijjarto's statement.

We have mended our relations with our Hungarian neighbours. Today our relations are normal, we have normal communication. Croatia has its national interests, it has its interests in INA, and the Hungarians have their own national interests. I am confident that we will find a solution for INA, but not through the media and not in public, but in direct talks between the two governments. As for the arbitration on relations between INA and MOL, it is continuing, Kovac said.

Szijjarto also spoke of the two oil and gas companies.

MOL is a strategic Hungarian company, one of the largest, and it is very important to us that MOL has a fair treatment of countries in which it is active. What we expect in this case is that Croatia respects international and national laws, but I do not wish to go deeper into this because that is a matter of the relationship between the two companies and I do not want to aggravate the situation further. I wish to emphasise that it is in our interest to have constructive and strategic cooperation with Croatia. It was not accidental, but a matter of principle, that we had done a lot for Croatia to enter the EU and in this case we do not understand why some politicians are trying to deepen the problems between the two countries, Szijjarto said.

When asked who he had agreed with not to deal with the problems through the media and whether such a deal had been made with HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko before the elections in Croatia, Szijjarto said that the meeting was based on party affiliation.

The meeting with Tomislav Karamarko and Miro Kovac last summer was based on party affiliation. We belong to the same political group, the European People's Party (EPP) and it is only natural that we meet. On that occasion we discussed general cooperation between the two countries and shared the view that it was unacceptable that our relations were so poor, the Hungarian foreign minister said, noting that relations between the two countries were now better and that Kovac had chosen Hungary as one of his first destinations at the start of his office.

We agreed then that we would try to talk as much as possible in order to settle our conflicts and I think that is a normal way. I understand that there are certain lobbies and interest groups, possibly in Croatia as well, who want our bilateral relations to be bad, but rest assured that we do not want to serve their interests, Szijjarto said.

Asked to comment on a possibility of MOL losing the arbitration case, Szijjarto said that it was a hypothetical question and there was no point in answering it. When explicitly asked if he was in favour of the arbitration proceedings being suspended, he said: I think any comment on my part would be harmful.

Szijjarto also declined to comment on relations within the Croatian government regarding the INA-MOL issue.

You can be sure that we never interfere in Croatia's internal affairs, he said, adding that as a partner from the EPP he hopes that the government will remain stable.

We want Croatia to be stable and strong, and in order for a country to be stable and strong, it must have a stable government, which is why we will keep our fingers crossed for the Croatian government, Szijjarto said.

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