Dutch foreign minister resigns after lying about Putin meeting
The Netherlands' foreign minister has stepped down after admitting he lied about attending a meeting hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The announcement came before he was due to be grilled in parliament.
Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Halbe Zijlstra announced his resignation Tuesday following revelations he lied about attending a meeting hosted by the Russian president, saying the hit to his credibility made staying in the role untenable.
"I see no other option today than to hand in my resignation to his majesty the King," a tearful Zijkstra told MPs in parliament. "The Netherlands deserves a minister who is above any doubt."
"This is by far the biggest mistake I have made in my career."
The foreign minister had faced growing calls from the opposition to step down after conceding Monday that he fibbed about being a guest at a gathering hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin over a decade ago.
The Netherlands' Junior Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag, who led a United Nations mission to destroy Syria's chemical weapons in 2013, will assume Zijlstra's responsibilities until a permanent replacement is found.
Caught in a lie
Zijlstra, a member of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's center-right VVD party, previously claimed to have attended the 2006 meeting where Putin reportedly made controversial comments about a "greater Russia."
Zijlstra later warned against Russian aggression, saying Putin favored a plan for regional expansion that "included Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic States."
But this week the foreign minister said he was not in fact present at the meeting, and had heard about it from someone else. He has since sought to defend the mischaracterization of his involvement in the event by saying he considered Putin's statements geopolitically important.
"I wanted to tell this story convincingly without revealing my source... I should not have done it. I am sorry," he told MPs.
Rutte comfortably survives no-confidence vote
Zijlstra's resignation prompted Rutte's arch-foe, the far-right MP Geert Wilders, to raise a vote of no-confidence against the prime minister late on Tuesday.
Although Rutte comfortably survived the vote, his handling of the case highlights the weaknesses of his four-party governing coalition, which only boasts a single-seat majority.
Russia: 'Fake news'
The Russian Embassy said in a statement that Zijlstra's actions were an example of "fake news directed against our country."
The allegations "do not hold up against any criticism and are only intended to spread false perceptions of Russia's intentions," it said. "Dutch officials are constantly making such unfounded statements."
Zijlstra's resignation came at the start of a hastily called session of parliament in the Hague at which he was expected to face questioning from opposition lawmakers over the affair. Prime Minister Rutte described the lie as a "big mistake," but had nevertheless stood by his minister.
The diplomat had been due to travel to Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Wednesday.
The dispute comes at an awkward moment in relations between the two countries, with the Netherlands preparing indictments against suspects involved in the downing of a Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014. The plane was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over Ukraine, allegedly by pro-Russian rebels. Almost 300 passengers died in the incident, some 200 of whom were Dutch citizens.
dm,nm/aw (Reuters, AP)