THE HAGUE (AFP) - The new US ambassador to the Netherlands refused on Wednesday (Jan 10) to explain his 2015 comments that Muslims had brought chaos to the country "burning cars and politicians", as he took up his post.
"I've made my statement about that. I've expressed my regrets and look forward to moving on," ambassador Peter Hoekstra said only hours after presenting his credentials to King Willem-Alexander, adding he would not be "revisiting the issue".
Despite being repeatedly asked by reporters at a heated press conference at his new residence in The Hague, Hoekstra refused to say whether he still stood by the comments he made at a 2015 conference in the United States.
Angry Dutch reporters asked him several times whether he still believed there were "no-go areas" in The Netherlands, and to identify which politicians had been burned. But Hoekstra refused to be drawn.
In a clip from the 2015 event, reportedly sponsored by the far-right David Horowitz Freedom Center, Hoekstra appears on a panel discussing the spread of radical Islam.
"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.
The film caused a stir in The Netherlands last month when during an interview with the NOS public broadcaster, Hoekstra denied ever making the comments, saying it was "fake news".
But when the clip was played for him, the Dutch-born ambassador then denied accusing his interviewer on camera just moments before of "fake news".
In a Twitter message on Dec 23, Hoekstra said: "I made certain remarks in 2015 and regret the exchange during the Nieuwsuur interview. Please accept my apology."
A businessman and former representative for Michigan for 18 years in the US Congress, Hoekstra was born in the northern Dutch city of Groningen before his parents emigrated when he was just three.
He takes up the post as US envoy left vacant for two years, and as immigration is set to again be a hot-button issue in the Dutch local elections due on March 21.
In general elections in March 2017, the far-right Freedom Party, led by anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders, who is financially supported by Horowitz, made significant gains to become the largest opposition party in the Dutch parliament.
"Our priorities at the embassy will be very clear," Hoekstra said on Wednesday.
The aim would be to maintain and build on four centuries of strong ties "as we stand together shoulder-to-shoulder on a global basis to influence the developments around the world."
"There are significant threats that we jointly face, and that we jointly work together at to make sure that our people are safe," he added.
Hoekstra said he hoped to begin in-depth briefings with Dutch officials on the US perspectives on issues both countries face, including counter-terrorism and cyber threats.