Rifkind hints at future `goodwill' role for Diana

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday became the first Cabinet minister to signal the Government's readiness to create a new public role for the Princess of Wales in response to her plea to become an "ambassador" for Britain.

But the Foreign Secretary equally emphasised that the Queen would have a veto over any arrangement to give the Princess some kind of formal ambassadorial position.

While Mr Rifkind avoided saying so explicitly, it is also widely understood that the Princess would have to agree to a divorce from Prince Charles before any future public role could be finalised.

The Princess has yet to respond to the Queen's call for the couple to end their marriage without delay in the hope that a line can be drawn under their public feuding which is damaging to the monarchy.

Mr Rifkind is the first member of Government to speak out publicly about a new role after the Princess made her bid to be a "goodwill' ambassador in her Panorama interview.

He appeared to highlight Foreign and Commonwealth Office concerns about the precise nature of such a role, and emphasised that the Queen's wishes would be paramount.

He told BBC radio 4's Today programme, however: "Ambassador has both a technical meaning but it also has a more general meaning that is sometimes used of someone who helps advance the interests of the country they belong to. These are issues we need to consider and they will be considered quite properly taking into account the wishes of Her Majesty the Queen. That is the single most important consideration."

Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, made clear last week that John Major supported the Queen's decision to call on Charles and Diana to agree to an early divorce.

Mr Rifkind stayed off that territory yesterday, but said: "I think we are at a very delicate moment with regard to the future of the Prince and Princess. I think it very much depends on the decisions they themselves take with regard to their future. I don't think it is helpful at this moment to speculate on these matters."