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Saudis in PR drive to improve tattered image in the US

WASHINGTON - Saudi Arabia is set to dramatically boost its public relations and advertising efforts in the US to improve its tattered image.

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The Saudi government has already spent millions of dollars on PR and advertising since September 11, in an effort to boost its image among Americans, many of whom see the oil-producing kingdom as being closely linked to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

Of the 9/11 hijackers, 15 of them were Saudi nationals and the country has stirred more US anger recently by coming out against possible US-led attacks on Iraq.

The controversy surrounding the country was not helped either when the secretive policy adviser, the Rand Corporation, told a Pentagon committee that Saudi Arabia should be treated as an enemy.

Reports suggest that the Saudi government has so far spent more than $5m (£3.2m) on hiring public relations firms in the last year. Among those firms it has been working with are Patton Boggs in Washington, which close ties to senior Democrats, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which was founded by Robert Strauss, the former head of the Democratic National Committee.

With the anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington fast approaching, the Saudis look set to step up their efforts and are considering running a new television advertising campaign in 26 cities across the US.

The Saudis have already spent million of dollars on TV and press ads over the past year pushing home the message that Saudi Arabia is a long-time ally of the United States.

One of the new ads features images of the Saudi and American flags being raised together while a voiceover says: "In the war on terrorism, we all have a part to play. Our country has been an ally for over 60 years."

Another execution shows Saudi leaders meeting with US presidents dating back to war-time leader Franklin D Roosevelt. The ads were created by another Washington-based public relations firm Qorvis Communications.

The Saudis' image has been dented still further by the $300bn lawsuit against the Middle Eastern state, launched by families of those who died in the terror attacks.

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