Rifkind calms Saudi exile row

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The Independent Online


Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday attempted to soothe Saudi Arabia's anger over the activities of dissidents based in London. Propaganda and agitation among exiles opposed to the Saudi royal family has infuriated senior princes, and local businessmen believe British contracts could be at risk.

The Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, and the Defence Minister, Prince Sultan, are reported to have expressed the desire to favour other countries over Britain in the allocation of future government business.

The issue of dissidents was raised in the first round of talks here yesterday between the Foreign Secretary and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al- Faisal. The Saudis want Britain to crack down on Professor Mohammed Masari, who fled the kingdom last year. Mr Masari is a self-proclaimed revolutionary who wants to replace the Saudi monarchy with an Islamic government. He has set up the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights, in north London, from where he bombards supporters in the kingdom with faxes and telephone calls.

"One or two individuals in London are given an importance far more than they deserve by the media," Mr Rifkind said after the talks. "We have no time for those who are making mischief." British officials said both sides had agreed that the Masari affair should not affect the relationship between Britain and Saudi Arabia, although the Government can take no measures against Mr Masari unless he breaks the law.

These explanations, however, have failed to impress Saudi Arabia's absolute monarchy.