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Saudi king meeting Syrian dissidents?

LONDON, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and his Crown Prince Sultan have reportedly met with Syrian dissident and former Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam.

A London-based diplomat told United Press International on condition of anonymity Friday that the Saudi monarch and crown prince met Tuesday with Khaddam, who lives in self-exile in Paris.

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The source, who refused to elaborate on Khaddam's meeting in Saudi Arabia, said King Abdullah will hold a similar meeting with Rifaat Assad, Syrian President Bashar Assad's uncle who has been living in exile for several years after being evicted by the late President Hafez Assad in the late 1980s following a coup attempt.

Khaddam, who defected from the ruling Baath regime early this year, has set up the opposition National Salvation Front with Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, head of the outlawed Syrian Muslim Brotherhood movement.

An NSF official said Khaddam is currently visiting Saudi Arabia to conduct Islam's lesser pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca.

The official, who requested anonymity, said "Khaddam's visit to the Saudi kingdom was not arranged or coordinated with any official side and it is limited to carry out the pilgrimage."

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He said al-Bayanouni also "happened to be in the kingdom for the same reason."

The official, however, refused to confirm or deny whether Khaddam actually held a meeting with the Saudi king and his heir.

In another development, the official said the NSF "is planning to open an office in Washington in order to establish contacts with the Syrian community in the United States, as well as with the U.S. administration to explain the front's views and objective of replacing the existing Baath regime with a democratic one in a peaceful and democratic way."

Khaddam, declared a traitor by Damascus, has accused the Syrian president of having ordered the Feb. 14, 2005, assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

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