The new US Ambassador to the Netherlands apologized on Friday for remarks he made in 2015 against Muslim immigrants, saying that he was “shocked” with himself.
Peter Hoekstra, a former Republican congressman for Michigan appointed by President Donald Trump as ambassador, had made comments two years ago about Dutch politicians being set on fire by Muslim immigrants.
“The Islamic movement is now gotten to a point where they have put Europe into chaos,” he had said at a November 2015 event sponsored by the right-wing David Horowitz Freedom Center gathering, which was recorded.
He added “...There are politicians that are being burned”.
Reflecting on his statements, Hoekstra told the Telegraaf newspaper on Friday: “That one shocked me personally ... While you know there have been other issues in other countries in Europe, you know that has never been the circumstances here. That was a wrong statement. That was just wrong.”
The interview emerged two days after he angered the Dutch press by refusing to answer questions about the 2015 remarks at a meeting with reporters. It coincides with a furor ignited by Trump himself who reportedly referred to various countries as “shithole countries”, although he later denied this.
Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein told a briefing on Thursday the State Department “does not agree” with Hoekstra’s remarks about Muslim migrants in the Netherlands.
“The ambassador made mistakes in 2015, made comments that should not have been made. He recognizes that,” Goldstein said. “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.”
Hoekstra vowed to learn from his mistakes and move on to build ties with the Dutch people.
"I have been so warmly welcomed by government officials at every level. They are genuinely interested in building on the issues we have discussed," he told the Telegraaf.
"I regret ... that I said something that looking back at that wasn't accurate.”
But he insisted his position as US ambassador had not been harmed.
"One of the things I learned in business: you learn from mistakes," Hoekstra stated.
"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.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists in The Hague on Friday he too disagreed with the comments, but declined to elaborate.
In December, Hoekstra denied making the 2015 remarks, telling the Dutch television program Nieuwsuur it was “an incorrect statement ... fake news.” Later in the same interview, he denied calling it fake news.