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U.S., NATO Urge Hungary, Ukraine To Settle Language-Law Dispute

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the United States are urging Hungary and Ukraine to resolve their differences over Ukraine's new minority language law, which prompted Hungary to block a NATO ministers' meeting with Ukraine this week.

Stoltenberg said on February 13 that he has urged the leaders of both Hungary and Ukraine "to find a solution" to their disagreement over Ukraine's law restricting schooling in the languages of ethnic minorities -- including Hungarian minorities -- which Hungary strongly opposes.

"We are aware of the challenges related to the language law," Stoltenberg said ahead of a scheduled NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels on February 14-15.

He said Kyiv and Budapest should "find a balance between minority rights to learn a minority language" and the "right" of the state to ensure children learn the state language.

"NATO will continue to work with Ukraine, continue to provide support to Ukraine," despite the cancellation of a ministerial-level meeting with Ukraine at the NATO gathering this week at Hungary's behest, Stoltenberg said.

Hungary has vowed to block Ukraine's bid for closer cooperation both with NATO and the European Union due to the minority-schooling law, which Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed into law in September.

Under the law, minorities -- including the children of the 140,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine -- will not be able to receive schooling in their mother tongue beyond primary school.

The law is seen as mostly an effort to reduce Russian influence in Ukraine. Russian is the most commonly spoken second language there and Kyiv has been fighting a Russia-backed separatist insurgency in the country's east.

The United States and other NATO countries also are urging Hungary to stop blocking Ukraine's NATO aspirations out of concern that could bolster Russia's power in the region.

"We should not be unable to have a NATO-Ukraine Council, because it is an important NATO effort to try to keep the boundaries of Ukraine and to allow them to hopefully be able to have a stable government and a place where they are not encroached on by Russian intervention," U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said on February 13.

She said she hoped Hungary and Ukraine would "sit down under the rules of international law" and "work something out that is in their interest."

With reporting by dpa
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