© 2023
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

World Leaders Call For End To Syrian Violence

DAVID GREENE, host: We turn now to Syria, where after Friday prayers yesterday, people in cities and towns across the country went out to protest, and at least 15 of them were killed by security forces. The attacks are a part of what activists are calling a Ramadan massacre over the past two weeks that's killed hundreds of those who oppose the government.

NPR's Kelly McEvers is monitoring the serious story from Beirut, Lebanon, and she joins us now. Hi, Kelly.


GREENE: I want to start with the reports that we're getting about Syria being a pretty big part of a conversation between President Obama and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Anything you can tell us about that?

MCEVERS: What we know is that the two are in agreement about what they call a brutal campaign of violence inside Syria at the hands of security forces against protesters. This comes after Saudi Arabia has issued a really stern warning to Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, earlier in the week. He called the crackdown a killing machine, and actually recalled the Saudi ambassador from Syria. Now, this is a pretty rare move for Saudi Arabia, which usually, you know, prefers kind of quiet diplomacy to outright criticism.

GREENE: So Saudi Arabia is calling what Assad is doing in Syria a killing machine. But another leader, Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has come out in support of Syria and the government, it sounds like. How is that playing in the region?

MCEVERS: This is actually a disturbing development. Iraq is a very divided place. Prime Minister Maliki is a Shiite, and it's thought that he got a lot of support from Iran and from Syria when he was vying to become prime minister and when he defeated his Sunni rivals in Iraq.

Well, it's not much of a surprise that Maliki would be siding with Iran on this issue. Syria and Iran are great allies. It does raise the specter of a kind of region-wide sectarian showdown on Syria. On one side, you have Iran, you know, the Hezbollah organization here in Lebanon, and the Shiite leader of Iraq pitted against, you know, the Sunni gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia, these countries allied with the U.S. and Europe.

What that does is it gives Assad, President Assad, more reason to sort of cast this uprising as, you know, as an attempt by his enemies to take him down rather than as a legitimate movement of people seeking democratic reform.

GREENE: And I guess one thing analysts have often talked about fearing was sort of a Shiite alliance between Iraq and Iran. Is that - is this a sign that we're beginning to see that?

MCEVERS: There's lots of talk that Iran has been behind Maliki, and that, you know, helped him shore up support to become the prime minister. This is definitely another step in that direction.

GREENE: The United States, it's worth noting, has not called for President Assad to step down in Syria. Do you see any signs of that happening?

MCEVERS: You know, there were a lot of reports last week that such a statement was due any day. But in the last couple of days, the Turkish press has been reporting that Turkey actually asked the U.S. to wait. Turkey sent its foreign minister to Syria a couple of days ago. He had a six-hour meeting with President Assad urging him to stop the violence.

You know, Turkey is the one to do this. Turkey and Syria are pretty strong allies lately. They've got strong economic ties. But it's Turkey that's been urging the international community to just give Assad a little more time to enact real reforms. But it also issued, you know, a kind of ultimatum this week, saying that if real progress isn't made in two weeks time, Turkey will not rule out a military intervention.

GREENE: That's NPR's Kelly McEvers in Beirut. Thanks, Kelly.

MCEVERS: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.