Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz, brother of King Fahd and Minister of the Interior for the past 20 years, said in a rare interview that Britain should "consider the interests" of Saudi Arabia in dealing with the fundamentalists. By traditional Saudi standards of discretion his remarks amounted to outspoken criticism of British policy.
Diplomats said the unusual decision by one of the most powerful men in the kingdom to speak to a foreign journalist indicated the depth of Saudi concern.
Saudi Arabia is Britain's closest ally and biggest trading partner in the Arab world, the host to some 30,000 Britons and customer for the controversial £20bn al-Yamama arms deal on which the fortunes of British Aerospace depend.
Prince Nayef has already complained about the activities of London-based dissidents to the British ambassador in Riyadh, David Gore-Booth, and the issue has been raised by King Fahd with the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd.
"We are not comfortable with this because it is taking place in a friendly country with whom we have a deep political and economic relationship," Prince Nayef said.
"We respect all the laws and interests of any country but at the same time we value our own interests - and any activities against the government of Saudi Arabia will be a key element of our interests."
Prince Nayef emphasised that "we place high regard on the friendly relationship with Britain". He said the kingdom intended to adhere to all agreed contracts for its defence and security expenditure. But he insisted that "we also ask Britain to consider our interests".
The Home Office recently refused an application for political asylum by the most prominent dissident in exile, Muham- mad al-Masari. He fled Saudi Arabia shortly after being released from detention for his activities and has since conducted a campaign against the house of Saud, the ruling family, by fax and phone.Reuse content