BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Vice President George Bush Monday praised Communist Hungary's human rights record and lauded veteran Communist party chief Janos Kadar as a leader with 'enormous' capability.
Bush, the highest-ranking American official ever to visit the Soviet ally, said the United States wanted better relations with all East Bloc nations but warned that NATO would respond to Soviet threats to European military stability.
Before flying to Budapest, Bush said in Romania that Washington is willing to prolong the U.S.-Soviet arms talks in Geneva beyond the November deadline, but deployment of new American nuclear missiles in Europe would begin in December if no agreement is reached.
Bush arrived in Budapest around noon on the sixth leg of a 10-day, 7-nation tour of North Africa, Eastern and Central Europe. He held several hours of what Hungarian officials called 'sincere and cordial' closed-door talks with Kadar, Prime Minister Gyorgy Lazar and other officials.
Later, at a formal banquet, he added to his prepared toast to give high praise to Kadar, 72, who was installed by the Russians after the 1956 Soviet invasion but guided Hungary into the most prosperous country in the East Bloc and became genuinely popular among the Hungarian people.
'Our conversation was indeed stimulating and beautifully frank,' Bush said, describing Kadar as 'a man with enormous capacity and leadership capability.
'We in the United States are heartened by Hungary's efforts to expand contacts, to foster tolerance and to meet the commitments that bind both our countries under the Helsinki final act,' he said.
'In the relations between our two nations, human rights and fundamental freedoms have not represented a point of discord, but instead brought us closer together,' he said.
Calling U.S.-Hungarian relations a model for the rest of the world, he added, 'the United States is deeply committed to the construction of a sounder, more cooperative and constructive relationship with all of the nations with which your country is aligned.'
Bush, however, underlined that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization 'is responding and will continue to respond to threats to the military stability that has for nearly four decades kept the peace in Europe and much of the rest of the world ...
'We seek agreements that are in the enlightened self-interest of both alliances and of all peoples,' he said. 'We look for signs of understanding, for a readiness to construct this new relationship and we will readily respond to the outstretched hand that seeks a fair agreement.'
Lazar said Hungary 'aspires to see that no nuclear weapons be deployed in countries where there are no such weapons yet and that the quantities be not increased where they are present.'
Bush met behind closed doors with Lazar and Kadar, who recently returned from Moscow.
He flies on to his last stop, Vienna, Tuesday.