Budapest: Hungary summoned the United States' top diplomat today to protest against comments by US Senator John McCain branding Prime Minister Viktor Orban a "neofascist dictator."
During Senate deliberations on new ambassadors in Washington yesterday, McCain described Hungary as "a nation that is on the verge of ceding its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator getting in bed with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin."
Budapest hit back today, with Levente Magyar, state secretary for foreign affairs, telling the US charge d'affaires: "The Hungarian government finds it unacceptable and firmly rejects Senator John McCain's comments on the Hungarian prime minister and on Hungary's relationship with Russia."
The foreign ministry also said the Hungarian embassy in Washington was in contact with McCain's staff.
The senator's comments came after a confirmation hearing for Colleen Bell, a TV soap opera producer and President Barack Obama's nominee as ambassador to Hungary.
"This is a very important country, where bad things are going on," McCain told the Senate, echoing widespread criticism that Orban was centralising power and curbing the independence of the judiciary and media.
"And we're going to send the producer of 'The Bold and The Beautiful' as the ambassador," the senator added, calling Bell a "totally unsuitable" nominee.
Relations between Hungary and the US have steadily worsened, with Obama in September criticising Budapest for targeting civil society.
Washington last month banned the entry of six Hungarian officials for alleged corruption.
The US ambassador's seat in Budapest has been vacant since July 2013. Hungarian officials have meanwhile accused the top envoy of political meddling.