AMMONNEWS - The Organization of Islamic Cooperation suspended Syria’s membership early on Thursday at a summit of Muslim leaders in Mecca, citing President Bashar al-Assad’s violent suppression of the Syrian revolt.
“The conference decides to suspend the Syrian Arab Republic membership in the OIC and all its subsidiary organs, specialized and affiliated institutions,” the closing statement said.
The move had been approved on Monday at a preliminary meeting of OIC foreign ministers and was agreed on the summit's second night despite opposition from Iran.
Saudi Arabia, the summit’s host, has led Arab efforts to isolate Syria diplomatically and has backed calls for the Syrian rebel opposition to be armed, which Foreign Minister Saud al-Fasial described in February as “an excellent idea.”
However, speaking to reporters after the summit, OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said he “did not see much support for external military intervention” in Syria during the summit.
He described the decision to suspend Syrian membership as “a message to the international community ... that the Islamic community stands with a politically peaceful solution and does not want any more bloodshed.”
U.S. hails decision
The United States commended Muslim states for suspending Syria’s OIC membership, saying it sent a “strong message” to Assad’s regime.
“Today’s action underscores the Assad regime’s increasing international isolation and the widespread support for the Syrian people and their struggle for a democratic state that represents their aspirations and respects their human rights,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
“The United States commends the OIC for its action and commitment to a peaceful resolution in Syria,” she added.
On the sidelines of the summit, U.S. special envoy Rashad Hussain met with Ihsanoglu, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Vice President Namadi Sambo of Nigeria and Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
They discussed Syria, as well as others in the Arab Spring series of popular uprisings against autocratic rulers in the Middle East and North Africa, and U.S. engagement with Muslim communities, according to a State Department note.
Hussain’s attendance of the meeting “demonstrates the United States’ commitment to working with our partners in the international community to support the aspirations of the Syrian people and bring additional pressure to bear on the Assad regime,” it added.
The move by the OIC, which represents 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, is aimed at further isolating Assad’s embattled regime, but its effect is seen as being largely symbolic.
Iran rebuffs suspension
Saudi King Abdullah has presided over the meeting, attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country has openly criticized the push to suspend Syria.
In his first published comments since the summit opened, Ahmadinejad appeared to rebuff the suspension.
On Iran’s Mehr news agency on Wednesday he said countries which wanted the Syrian crisis solved must come up with a plan of action to do so.
“But unfortunately some of our brothers and friends have not acted well in this area and instead of inviting the conflicting parties for talks and understanding, they are busy sending weapons into the country and encouraging slaughter,” he added.
However, the summit, which has taken place late on consecutive nights because of the Ramadan fast, had been billed as a diplomatic showdown between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, which have backed different sides in sectarian conflicts in the Middle East.
Saudi King Abdullah tried to conciliate Iran at the summit opening by placing Ahmadinejad at his side to welcome Muslim leaders in a gesture Saudi political analysts said was aimed at putting old grievances aside in the quest for a resolution to the Syrian crisis.
He also suggested founding a center for dialogue between Islam’s sects, another move aimed at defusing some of the region’s sectarian tensions. That proposal was adopted by the summit.