“This is more about long-term American strategic interests than about rewarding or not rewarding Orban, even if it looks otherwise,” Mr. Simonyi, the former ambassador, said.
Sensitive to the perception of embracing another illiberal autocrat, administration officials insisted during a conference call with reporters on Friday that the government has raised concerns about Mr. Orban’s actions at lower levels.
Mr. Orban met at the White House with Vice President Dick Cheney in 2001 but was refused a formal Oval Office meeting with Mr. Bush in 2002, shortly before he lost power to the Hungarian socialist party. His successor, Ferenc Gyurcsany, was granted a White House visit with Mr. Bush in 2005. After Mr. Orban re-entered office in 2010 and began to subjugate the judiciary, take over the news media and gerrymander the electoral map, Mr. Orban was snubbed repeatedly by the Obama administration.
Without question, the Trump administration has been warmer to Mr. Orban, who shares with Mr. Trump a dislike of immigration, independent institutions that can check his power, and international institutions that they say undermine national sovereignty.
That outward comity stands in contrast to the obvious friction between the Trump administration and longstanding American allies in Europe and elsewhere. Last Tuesday, Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, canceled a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany with only a few hours of notice and instead made a quick trip to Iraq — a decision perceived in Germany as a snub. He announced the same day that he would meet this week with Mr. Putin in Russia.
Last June, Mr. Orban was granted a phone call with Mr. Trump. In July, the State Department canceled funding for independent Hungarian news outlets that threatened to loosen Mr. Orban’s grip on the Hungarian news media.
To head the State Department section on European affairs, Mr. Trump in 2017 named A. Wess Mitchell, an advocate of friendlier ties with European Union nations, like Hungary and Poland, whose governments oppose the liberal forces that hold sway within the European Union. But Mr. Mitchell resigned this year and is due to be replaced by a career diplomat, Philip T. Reeker, who has displayed no public affection for the Orban administration.