The new US ambassador to the Netherlands vowed to learn from his mistakes and move on to build ties with the Dutch people, after a rocky start to his posting. “I have been so warmly welcomed by government officials at every level. They are genuinely interested in building on the issues we have discussed,” Peter Hoekstra said in remarks published today in the conservative De Telegraaf daily. He added he regretted his comments in 2015 in which he had wrongly claimed that Islamists had brought violence to the Netherlands. “I mixed up countries,” Hoekstra said. “I got it wrong… I am not quite sure why I got it wrong,” he added, in the English transcript of the interview provided to AFP by the US embassy. Dutch-born former Republican congressman Hoekstra was President Donald Trump’s pick to represent the United States in the Netherlands, one of Europe’s top economies. 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 turned parts of the country into “no-go zones” and that cars and politicians were being burned.
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. “I regret … that I said something that looking back at that wasn’t accurate,” he told De Telegraaf in yesterday’s interview after visiting the low-income neighbourhood of Schilderswijk, in the centre of The Hague. But he insisted his position as US ambassador had not been harmed. “One of the things I learned in business: you learn from mistakes,” he said. “I have a record of 25 years of working with Dutch government officials, working with Dutch government interest, promoting American business interest…(people) know who I am,” he said. “They have not put a quote (from 2015) at the top of their list” of talks which should focus on common challenges, such as cyber attacks, Brexit and how to deal with Russia.
Hoekstra and his staff are also preparing to move into a new embassy later this month on a 10-acre site in the leafy, upscale Wassenaar suburb of The Hague, leaving behind the current building in the centre of the city opened in 1959. The ambassador said he would be happy to welcome a visit by Trump at any time.