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Dutch foreign minister quits after lying about Putin meeting

February 13, 2018

FILE - This is a Thursday, Nov. 16. 2017 file photo of Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs Halbe Zijlstra attends a press conference at the ministry of foreign affairs in Berlin, Germany. In a potentially damaging admission on the eve of his first visit to Russia as a member of the Dutch government, Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra has acknowledged lying about attending a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in 2006. Zijlstra made the admission in an interview published in respected Dutch daily De Volkskrant. He confirmed his comments in a written statement Monday Feb. 12, 2018. (Soeren Stache/dpa File via AP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch foreign affairs minister resigned Tuesday, a day after admitting that he lied about attending a meeting hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin more than a decade ago.

An emotional Halbe Zijlstra announced his resignation at the start of a debate Tuesday at which he was expected to be grilled by opposition lawmakers about the lie. He called it “by far the biggest mistake I have committed in my entire career.”

“This is about the credibility of the minister of foreign affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands,” Zijlstra said. “That credibility must be beyond doubt.”

Zijlstra, a member of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right VVD party, is the first minister to quit since Rutte’s four-party coalition took office in October. Rutte, who was also in Parliament for Zijlstra’s resignation, hugged him as he left.

Zijlstra’s position as the country’s top diplomat became untenable after he admitted lying about a meeting with Putin.

Zijlstra has in the past said he attended a 2006 meeting when Putin said he considered Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states as part of a “Greater Russia.”

On Monday, Zijlstra conceded he wasn’t present at the meeting but heard the story from somebody who was. He said he considered Putin’s statements so geopolitically important that he spoke about them publicly and took credit for hearing the comments as a way of protecting his source.

“It was clearly a wrong choice,” Zijlstra said as he announced his resignation.

The Russian embassy in the Netherlands waded into the debate by issuing a statement accusing some in the Netherlands of distributing “fake news” aimed at discrediting Moscow by suggesting it has expansionist ambitions.

“This can only be heard from those who are interested in presenting Russia as an enemy and who under the pretext of the notorious ‘Russian threat’ keep pushing NATO military infrastructure eastwards, therefore consciously provoking military confrontation,” the Russian statement said.

Zijlstra’s resignation came a day before he was due to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow.

There was no immediate announcement about a replacement.

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