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Dutch royal couple to kick off first U.S. visit in Washington
Diplomatic Pouch / May 29, 2015

By Larry Luxner

AMSTERDAM — King Willem-Alexander, the first male monarch to ascend the Dutch throne in more than 130 years, makes his inaugural royal visit to the United States next week, along with his wife, Queen Máxima, to mark the 70th anniversary of Europe’s liberation — and to thank the American people for ending World War II.

The royal visit begins May 31 in Washington, with a private dinner at the residence of Rudolf Bekink, the Dutch ambassador to the United States. It continues the next day with a pilgrimage to Arlington National Ceremony, where the king and queen will place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They will then meet with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. The royal couple was last hosted by Obama on Sept. 11, 2009, as the crown prince and princess.

“The visit of His Majesty King Willem-Alexander and Her Majesty Queen Máxima will underline the deep bond that exists between the Netherlands and the United States,” said Bekink, noting that the royal couple will also visit Chicago and Grand Rapids, Mich., during their three-day U.S. tour. “It will be my pleasure to show them all aspects of this special relationship, from our economic ties to our joint heritage.”

Despite its small size, the Netherlands — not much bigger than Maryland — is home to 16.5 million and ranks as the world’s second-largest agricultural exporter. It’s also home to Rotterdam, the world’s fourth-largest port.

King Willem-Alexander, 48, succeeded his mother, Queen Beatrix, to become king of the Netherlands in 2013, making him the country’s first male monarch since William III, who reigned from 1849 to 1890.

The Washington segment of the royal visit includes meetings with the 18-member Dutch Congressional Caucus, led by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA). In addition, the king and queen will join a roundtable conversation at the World Bank on sustainable development from the small-island perspective, based on the Dutch kingdom’s Caribbean outposts of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten.

Also on the royal agenda is a conference on sustainable smart cities at Washington’s National Building Museum. The “Global City Teams Challenge Expo” — organized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and US Ignite — brings together experts from 30 cities around the world and exhibits from more than 40 GCTC teams to focus on the future of smart cities, an industry in which the Netherlands excels.

Leaders in smart and sustainable urban design, the Dutch have succeeded in finding clever solutions to water- and energy-related problems that threaten communities, economic capital, and quality of life.

A big part of the visit will be about economics. The Netherlands consistently ranks among the top five foreign investors in the United States, and the bilateral relationship supports 685,000 American jobs, according to the Dutch Embassy.

In advance of the royal visit, The Washington Diplomat was invited to the Netherlands earlier this month on a five-day press trip with five other media outlets. The agenda included a 30-minute interview with King Willem-Alexander at Noordeinde Palace in The Hague.

During the meeting, the king — who spoke on condition that he not be quoted directly — said his country was deeply grateful to the United States for liberating Holland from the Nazis 70 years ago. He said he looks forward to meeting World War II veterans on his upcoming trip, despite the tight schedule.

King Willem-Alexander also said the Netherlands is the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products, and that it got there thanks to technology. Because of space limitations, the Dutch have learned to excel in “urban farming” — the technique of growing plants indoors in multiple layers, under artificial light.

A Dutch economic mission will be traveling to the United States at the same time as the royal couple, featuring leaders in the country’s agribusiness and horticulture sectors, as well as investors in life sciences, health care, chemicals and high-tech. In Michigan, the royals will visit Helen DeVos Children’s Hostpial and Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids.

They’ll also spend a day in Chicago, with meetings at the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

But the visit won’t be all about business. At the invitation of Theodore Lerner, principal owner of the Washington Nationals, King Willem-Alexander — a big sports fan and former member of the International Olympic Committee — and Queen Máxima will enjoy a baseball game between the Nationals and the Toronto Blue Jays.

During the game, they’ll join in a salute to American veterans attending the game, as well as meet with them. A group of Dutch citizens and Dutch-Americans living in the Washington metropolitan area will also attend the game with the royal couple.

Watch the July issue of the Washington Diplomat for extensive coverage of our trip to the Netherlands.

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