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World Hungary seeks talks with New York state on status of Soros-founded university

President and Rector of the Central European University Michael Ignatieff speaks during a press conference in Budapest, Hungary, on May 30, 2017.

Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP

The Hungarian government said Tuesday it was seeking to engage with New York state about the status of Budapest-based Central European University, founded by billionaire George Soros.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent letters to Prime Minister Viktor Orban and President Janos Ader advocating for CEU, saying recent changes to Hungary's higher education law "attempts to close the university for no legitimate reason."

"CEU is an important collaboration between New York and Hungary," Cuomo said in the letters obtained by The Associated Press. "I hope that this important partnership will be allowed to continue with the guarantee of CEU's independence."

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Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamas Menczer said the ministry was working with Cuomo's office to schedule a meeting about the university.

CEU, founded in 1991, is accredited in New York state, but doesn't have a campus there, one of the new rules in the amended law. CEU issues diplomas accepted in Hungary and the U.S.

The legal amendments adopted in April also call for bilateral agreements between Hungary and the home countries of foreign universities operating in the country. In the case of the United States, Hungary is also seeking agreements with the schools' home states.

The changes could force CEU to move, although Rector Michael Ignatieff reiterated Tuesday that the school is determined to stay in Budapest.

"We hope that in the course of the next few months, this absurd effort by the government to shut us down will be taken away," Ignatieff told reporters. "Budapest is our home, we're staying here and it's business as usual."

The U.S State Department, however, has said the U.S. "has no authority or intention" to negotiate about CEU or other American universities with a presence in Hungary.

A Foreign Ministry official is expected to travel in about two weeks to Maryland to speak with officials there about McDaniel College, Menczer said. Established in 1867 as Western Maryland College, the college also has operated a campus in Hungary since 1993.

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Cuomo's office said a meeting with Hungarian officials also was tentatively scheduled for June.

The conflict over CEU is part of a wider dispute between Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Soros, whose ideal of an "open society" is at odds with Orban's desire to turn Hungary into an "illiberal state."

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