Pete Hoekstra, the new US ambassador to the Netherlands, has admitted claiming in 2015 that Muslim youths had created so-called “no-go” zones in the country and were burning politicians.
Mr Hoekstra, a Republican congressman appointed to the envoy’s job by Donald Trump, last month denied making the claims, calling them “fake news”, despite being shown video evidence.
Confronted by Dutch journalists at a disastrous first press conference on Wednesday, he refused to answer questions about his comments.
On Friday Mr Hoekstra finally admitted to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that he had made the remarks, to a right wing gathering in the US, and said he was “shocked” by them.
“That was a wrong statement. That was just wrong,” Mr Hoekstra said, adding that it was “clearly that was an inaccurate statement”.
“That one shocked me personally … because while you know there have been other issues in other countries in Europe, you know that has never been the circumstances here,” he said.
The interview followed an visit by Mr Hoekstra to the low-income neighbourhood of Schilderswijk in The Hague, where he met youth leaders and local residents, including Muslims, a US embassy official told the AFP news agency.
In a video clip that went viral in December, a Dutch journalist confronted Mr Hoekstra with footage of him speaking in the US in 2015.
“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,” Mr Hoekstra said.
Asked about his reaction to the Mr Hoekstra’s remarks and his appointment, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he disagreed but 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,” Mr Rutte told reporters. He said the ambassador was “an intelligent man” who “had instructions from Washington to repair the misunderstanding”.
The US State Department distanced itself from Mr Hoekstra’s comments on Thursday. “The ambassador made mistakes in 2015, made comments that should not have been made,” Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Steve Goldstein said.
“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.