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Dutch diplomat to visit Saudi to avert sanctions threat

The Dutch government is unlikely to make pledges for tangible action to rein in right-winger Geert Wilders

Mustapha Ajbaili

Published: Updated:

A senior Dutch diplomat will visit Saudi Arabia this weekend to discuss the crisis created by a politician’s anti-Islam stickers, but the diplomat is unlikely to make pledges for any tangible action to reign in right-winger Geert Wilders.

A spokeswoman for the Dutch Foreign Ministry told Al Arabiya News on Friday that Wim Geerts, director-general for political affairs, will meet with Saudi officials in Riyadh to avert possible sanctions against Dutch contracting companies.

“Sanctions haven’t been confirmed, but there are indications that measures are being taken, and this is the situation he’ll be discussing with the Saudi authorities,” Annemijn van den Broek said.

Asked if the Dutch government will make any offer in exchange for the Saudis aborting their sanctions plan, she said: “There’s no exchange at this point. We’re discussing the issues of what can be done to resolve the [lack of] clarity that exists at this point. So this is what they’ll be discussing.”

Van den Broek noted the right of people, including politicians, to express their opinions in the Netherlands.

“Members of parliament have the liberty of saying anything they want, but it doesn’t mean this is the opinion of the government,” she said.

“Wilders is allowed to say what he wants, but it doesn’t mean our policy is aligned with that. This is something we’ve made clear... and will be made clear again.”

Wilders, leader of the right-wing Freedom Party, had stickers bearing slogans deemed insulting to Islam printed in December as part of his campaign material.

The far-right Eurosceptic has a fan base that extends as far afield as the United States. His Freedom Pary has come fourth place in this’s week’s European Parliament elections.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans had previously said: “The Netherlands can’t be held responsible for the adolescent behavior of a single parliamentarian. We’ll do everything possible to keep the consequences for the Netherlands as limited as possible.”

Saudi columnist and political analyst Salman al-Dousary told Al Arabiya News Channel: “If we take a look at the opinion polls of the European Parliamentary elections, we’d find out that [Wilders] doesn’t only represent himself. A large segment of Dutch citizens support... his extremist ideas.”

Dousary said the sanctions drafted by Saudi Arabia will likely go into effect because “the Dutch government hasn’t done enough to control the matter.”

Van den Broek said the Saudis have not expressed concerns to the Dutch government about growing anti-Islam sentiments in the Netherlands, but “if this is something they’d like to discuss with us, this is something we’ll hear this weekend.”

Saudi media reported this week that sanctions will involve a reduction in the number of visas issued to Dutch nationals, and a suspension of exchange business trips between the two countries.

The Dutch statistics office values the country’s exports to Saudi Arabia at 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) a year.