Pete Hoekstra says statements about Muslim migrants in the Netherlands were ‘simply wrong’ after last month telling a TV interviewer they were ‘fake news’
Jon Henley European affairs correspondent
The new US ambassador to The Hague has apologised for saying Muslim migrants had created “no-go zones” and “burned” politicians in the Netherlands.
In extracts from an interview with De Telegraaf newspaper to be published in full on Saturday, Pete Hoekstra said that with hindsight, “I’m shocked I said it. It was a misstatement. It was simply wrong.”
Hoekstra, a Dutch-born former Republican congressman who was Donald Trump’s pick to represent the US, added: “I got countries mixed up. I got it wrong, and I don’t know how it could have happened.”
During a panel discussion in 2015, Hoekstra said “the Islamic movement” had caused “chaos in the Netherlands – there are cars being burned. There are politicians that are being burned and, yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands”.
The ambassador caused upset on his first day on the job this week after presenting his credentials to King Willem-Alexander, clashing with reporters and refusing to answer repeated requests for clarification about the statements.
One journalist asked if the ambassador could name a politician who had been set on fire in the Netherlands in recent years, while another observed: “This is the Netherlands, you have to answer questions.”
Last month Hoekstra denied making the remarks altogether, telling a Dutch TV interviewer he was making “an incorrect statement … that is fake news.” After he was played a recording of his remarks, he then denied using the term fake news.
A state department official said on Thursday the department did not agree with the 2015 remarks, adding that Hoekstra will visit Dutch Muslim communities over the weekend.
“The ambassador made mistakes in 2015, made comments that should not have been made. He recognises that,” under secretary of state Steve Goldstein told a Washington briefing.
“We have made clear to the ambassador that he must move to get this behind him. And he definitely understands that. He feels great remorse.”
Goldstein said Hoekstra’s 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.
Separately, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said that he disagreed with Hoekstra, but stressed he wanted to build “viable” ties with the US administration.
“He seems to be an intelligent man, and he has had instructions from Washington to repair the misunderstanding,” he added.