US President Donald J. Trump (L) welcomes Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (R) to the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 13 May 2019. | Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE

US president praises Hungary’s controversial leader in White House meeting.

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Donald Trump bestowed the greatest possible compliment on Viktor Orbán — comparing the Hungarian leader to himself.

Orbán is “probably like me,” Trump said Monday in a joint appearance at the White House with the visiting Hungarian prime minister. “A little bit controversial, but that’s OK … you’ve done a good job, and you’ve kept your country safe,” he said, while declaring that Orbán — one of the EU’s most controversial leaders — “has done a tremendous job” and is “respected all over Europe.”

No Hungarian prime minister has visited the White House since 2005, and Orbán has not set foot in the Oval Office for over two decades. The Hungarian leader was the only EU head of government to endorse Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election, but for more than two years he failed to get an invitation to the White House, leading to a Hungarian government lobbying effort to try to secure a coveted meeting.

Wearing an orange tie — the color of his ruling Fidesz party — Orbán joked about his long absence from the White House, saying that being in the building made him feel young.

The Hungarian prime minister said he wanted to use the meeting with Trump to “strengthen our strategical alliance” and said he was proud to stand with the U.S. on fighting illegal immigration and terrorism, as well as helping Christian communities.

U.S. officials have long worried about Orbán’s moves to undermine independent institutions at home, while the Hungarian leader’s increasingly friendly relations with Moscow and Beijing have raised concerns across the American political spectrum. The role of Chinese and Russian state-owned companies in Hungary was set to be among the topics discussed during Monday’s White House talks.

But sitting next to Orbán ahead of their private meeting, Trump called Hungary “a very good member of NATO.”

Asked about concerns of democratic backsliding in Hungary, Trump told reporters that Orbán is a “tough man but he is a respected man” who has “done the right thing according to many people on immigration. And you look at some of the problems that they have in Europe that are tremendous because they have done it a different way than the prime minister.”