CAIRO — Gulf countries seeking to suspend Syria's membership to the Arab League over its bloody crackdown on protesters failed to gain enough support Sunday to push the measure through, reflecting deep divisions among the body's 22 nations.
Arab foreign ministers met at the group's Cairo headquarters behind closed doors for an initial three-hour session without Syria's representative, then took a break and reconvened for talks with Syrian diplomats that lasted late into the night.
Just after the meeting with Syrian diplomats, Qatar Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim made no mention of a possible suspension and instead gave Syria a 15-day deadline to enact a cease-fire.
The Arab League also agreed to create a committee led by Qatar to oversee the situation in Syria and said a national dialogue between Syrian officials and the opposition would take place at the league's headquarters in Cairo. "A national dialogue in 15 days is one of the most important decisions of the day," bin Jassim said.
To suspend Syria's membership, at least two-thirds of the members would have had to support the measure. A bloc of six Persian Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, was leading the push for the measure along with recognition of the opposition leadership, the Syrian National Council, the Associated Press reported.
Suspension of an Arab League member is rare. Although the move likely would have no direct, tangible impact on Syria, it would constitute a major blow to President Bashar Assad's embattled regime by stripping Damascus of its Arab support and further deepening its isolation.
The national dialogue is to include members of the opposition from outside Syria as well as inside. If the meeting and a cease-fire do not take place within the allotted time frame, the Arab League will meet again in an emergency session, participants said.