Dutch PM disavows US envoy's 'no-go zones' claims
The Hague (AFP)
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Friday disagreed with the new US ambassador that Islamic violence had created no-go zones in the Netherlands, but stressed he wanted to build "viable" ties with the US administration.
"No I don't agree, but I'm not going to comment on the comments. But I don't agree," Rutte told reporters when asked about the 2015 claims by US envoy Peter Hoekstra.
Dutch-born former Republican congressman Hoekstra was President Donald Trump's pick to represent the United States in the Netherlands.
But his first days in the job have been clouded by a row after video emerged of him at a 2015 conference claiming that Muslim immigrants had brought chaos to the country.
"The Islamic movement has now gotten to a point where they have put Europe into chaos, chaos in the Netherlands, there are cars being burned, there are politicians that are being burned," he says in the clip, adding parts of the country were now "no-go zones."
At a tense and awkward first press conference on Wednesday, Hoekstra repeatedly ignored questions from angry reporters on whether he still stood by his comments.
Rutte, who has also mastered the art of not being drawn on sticky questions, said: "I want to build a relationship with him, and I don't think it is good for that relationship for me to comment."
"He seems to be an intelligent man, and he has had instructions from Washington to repair the misunderstanding," he added.
"I am interested in only one thing, and that is that the Dutch and American governments build a viable relationship."
In an interview late Friday with De Telegraaf newspaper, Hoekstra said he had made a mistake, adding he took back his claims about the Netherlands and regretted making what he called an inaccurate statement.
His comments were reported in Dutch, and the US embassy in The Hague did not reply to repeated AFP requests to provide the English transcript of the interview.
The US State Department has meanwhile distanced itself from Hoekstra's comments, and said he would be meeting over the weekend with Dutch media and local communities to try to explain his remarks.
"The ambassador made mistakes in 2015, made comments that should not have been made," Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Steve Goldstein told reporters on Thursday.
"Those comments were not the position of the State Department and you will never hear those words from this podium or in any form," he said.
© 2018 AFP