In October, Saudi Arabia stunned diplomats when it rejected its first seat on the U.N. Security Council. The Saudi Foreign Ministry blasted the council for an "inability to perform its duties" in stopping the war.
"The problem in Syria today is ... clear negligence on the part of the world, who continue to watch the suffering of the Syrian people without taking steps to stop that suffering," Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal, an influential member of the royal family and a former intelligence chief, said at a conference in Monaco this month.
The Saudis are particularly annoyed that the U.S. and Britain did not follow through with threats to punish Assad's government over the use of chemical weapons. Those decisions caused similar uproar in France for Hollande, who many at home believed was left hanging as the only Western power to pledge military support.
"The Saudi monarchy cannot fathom the fact that Assad might survive this crisis and then turn against them. They reject this possibility and are willing to do what they can to make Assad go," said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Gulf Affairs.Both countries say they will continue to back the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, in contrast with the Obama administration's hesitation. Unlike the U.S., the French have resisted suspending non-lethal aid to the rebels and show no signs of changing course. The Syrian conflict, which has claimed more than 120,000 people and spawned a regional refugee crisis, has become in many ways a proxy fight pitting Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Arab states against Shiite powerhouse Iran, a major supporter of Assad. What the Saudis won't do is send in their own well-equipped armed forces, al-Ahmed said, because it could empower the Saudi military to turn against them as happened elsewhere during the Arab Spring. The Saudis also watch with trepidation at the warming ties between Iran and the West. The way the nuclear talks were handled -- with U.S. officials secretly meeting their Iranian counterparts before more formal talks involving world powers -- particularly rankled the Saudis. "Saudi Arabia is clamoring for a major role in shaping the region. They feel they deserve that," said Theodore Karasik, a security and political affairs analyst at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. Washington has strived to downplay any suggestion of a rift. Senior American officials have traveled to the Gulf recently to reassure allies, including Saudi Arabia. And Soria, the analyst, said the U.S. partnership, which includes billions in defense contracts, would endure beyond the current tensions. But a closer Saudi-French relationship could mean more of those lucrative deals go to Paris. On Sunday, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said that Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion to buy weapons from France for the Lebanese army. At the news conference, Hollande also highlighted several commercial contracts that had been signed throughout the year and said he and King Abdullah talked about other possible areas of cooperation, like nuclear energy. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. and Saudi Arabia "share the same goals" of ending the war in Syria and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but she stopped short of endorsing a Saudi role at the bargaining table with Iran. Al-Ahmed said Iran would never agree to any talks involving the Saudis, but that wouldn't stop the kingdom from trying. "The Saudi obsession that they will be sold out to the Iranians in a grand bargain makes them want to be in these meetings to ensure that does not happen," he said. By Adam Schreck and Lori Hinnant