Arab League ministers meet on Syria after UN veto

Arab plan calls for Syrian president to step aside; Saudi Arabia, Qatar at forefront of efforts to isolate Assad.

Arab League headquarters in Cairo 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Arab League headquarters in Cairo 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
CAIRO - Arab ministers met in Cairo on Sunday to discuss efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria after Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed Arab League peace plan at the UN Security Council.
A Syrian opposition official said Gulf ministers would discuss a proposal to recognize the opposition Syrian National Council, a move that would further isolate Syrian President Bashar Assad. League officials said such an idea was not formally on the agenda but could be raised during talks.
The Russian and Chinese veto at the Security Council drew criticism from Arab states which had sought UN backing for an initiative that called on Assad to step aside and hand powers to a deputy as part of a political transition to democracy.
The Arab drive to isolate Syria has been led by Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Gulf Arab ministers began talks in Cairo on Sunday ahead of broader Arab ministerial meetings later in the day.
Gulf states announced last week that they were recalling their ambassadors from Syria and expelling Syria's envoys. Libya and Tunisia, both countries where popular revolts toppled authoritarian rulers last year, have taken similar steps.
"There are Gulf states that will propose recognizing the Syrian National Council as the representative of the Syrian people during the meeting of ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (on Sunday) in Cairo," said Abdel Baset Seda, a member of the SBC's executive committee, told Reuters in Cairo.
Abdel Baset, who has been meeting Arab ministers and officials, said ministers were also expected to discuss proposals for a "Friends of Syria" contact group of Arab, Western and other countries to press for action over Syria.
The plan was proposed by France and the United States after Russia and China blocked the Security Council resolution.
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Diplomats at the United Nations said Saudi Arabia had circulated a new draft resolution backing the Arab plan for the General Assembly rather than the Security Council to consider. Assembly resolutions are non-binding but cannot be vetoed.
However, Riyadh denied on Sunday reports that it had formally presented the resolution to the assembly.
A new, UN-Arab observer mission
Arab ministers are due to discuss the fate of a troubled Arab observer mission sent to Syria in December, but suspended last month as violence surged. They are also expected to review the idea of appointing a UN-Arab League envoy on Syria.
Criticized by Syria's opposition for failing to halt violence, the Arab observer mission suffered from internal dissent, as well as logistics and training problems.
The Sudanese general heading the team, Mohammed al-Dabi, has submitted his resignation for Arab ministers to consider, a Sudanese source said. The mission he headed had 165 observers until Gulf states, Morocco and Jordan withdrew their members.
League Secretary-General Nabil Elarabi has proposed a joint mission with the United Nations and has asked Arab ministers to discuss the idea, a top League official said last week.
The proposal has met a lukewarm response at the United Nations, although the United States and Germany said they were studying it.
The monitors from the initial mission to Syria were told last week they could leave the country for a break and their return would depend on what Arab ministers decided.