Saudi Arabia Deepens Syria's Regional Isolation

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have recalled their ambassadors to Syria

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As Western powers intensify their rhetoric against the Syrian regime for its five-month-old crackdown on protesters through Security Council statements and economic sanctions, Arab leaders have largely refrained from criticizing the government. But with brutal military assaults underway in Deir al-Zor and Hama this week, Syria's neighbors are breaking their silence. On Monday, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah (above, on left) recalled his country's ambassador from Damascus and deemed the developments in Syria "not acceptable for Saudi Arabia" in a written statement read out on al-Arabiya television. He called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop "the killing machine and end the bloodshed," adding that "Syria should think wisely before it's too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms." Later on Monday, Kuwait declared that it would also be recalling its ambassador to Syria.

The announcements come a day after the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, urged an immediate end to "bloodshed" and "excessive use of force" in Syria, and called for significant reforms. Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby also expressed "growing concern" over the "escalating violence" in the country but added that the Arab League would use "persuasion" rather than "drastic measures" to end the violence. Turkey, meanwhile, is threatening to join international actions against the Syrian regime if it fails to renounce violence and introduce meaningful reforms, according to Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News. Jordan's response has been more muted, with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh describing Syria's use of force as "disturbing" but stressing that his country didn't want to meddle in the country's internal affairs.

Some analysts see Saudi Arabia's criticism of Syria as hypocritical given that the monarchy bans political opposition, suppressed its own embryonic Arab Spring protests, criticized Hosni Mubarak's trial in Egypt, and dispatched troops to Bahrain this spring to quell anti-government demonstrations (the kingdom is also acting as a mediator in Yemen and hosting President Ali Abdullah Saleh as he recovers from surgery). As al-Jazeera's Gregg Carlstom tweets sarcastically, "I assume Abdullah's criticism of Syria means that he would react peacefully to an uprising in Saudi Arabia, right?" But Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch thinks the reaction from Syria's neighbors is still an important development, though it's arriving belatedly. "Saudi, Arab League, Turkish moves on Syria painfully late + less than hoped, but urgently needed regional coalition finally coming together," he writes.

Still, the effect all this regional pressure is having on Syria is unclear. As The New York Times points out, the Syrian is still defying the "growing global chorus of outrage." The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency says the criticisms from Turkey and the GCC ignore Assad's reform program and the fact that "armed terrorist groups" are trying to destabilize Syria.

The Guardian has video of King Abdullah's tough words for Syria, with English subtitles:

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