AMSTERDAM Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans is to visit Saudi Arabia to ward off possible trade sanctions against the Netherlands prompted by anti-Islamic stickers distributed by far-right politician Geert Wilders.
A foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday that Timmermans will make clear during the visit that Wilders' views are his own and do not represent the position of the Dutch government.
The Saudi authorities have not announced any official sanctions on the Netherlands, one of the Gulf Arab kingdom's largest investors. But Saudi media reported last week that measures had already been imposed on Dutch companies.
The decision to send a top member of the Dutch government came a day after a senior Dutch diplomat returned from a two-day trip to Saudi Arabia to prevent the issue from escalating.
"The visit by our director general to Riyadh was a good first step," the ministry spokesman said. "The Netherlands and Saudi Arabia share the opinion that this issue should not take hostage of the relations between our countries."
Wilders, the leader of the opposition, anti-immigration Dutch Freedom Party, known by its Dutch acronym PVV, came in second place in Dutch elections for the European Parliament last week.
Wilders, who wants to halt immigration from Islamic countries to the Netherlands and exit the European Union, printed stickers in the colors of the Saudi flag in December bearing slogans derogatory to Islam.
Bilateral trade between the countries came to nearly $5 billion in 2010 and the Netherlands accounted for nearly 4 percent of foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia that year, the Dutch government said.
(Reporting By Anthony Deutsch Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)