U.S., Britain Hail Arab League Decision on Syria

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U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday praised the "leadership" of the Arab League after the grouping suspended Syria in a move that deepened the Damascus government's isolation.

The League said the suspension will remain in place until President Bashar Assad implements an Arab deal to end violence against protesters, and called for sanctions and transition talks with the opposition.

"I applaud the important decisions taken by the Arab League today, including the suspension of Syria's membership," Obama said in a written statement issued in Hawaii, where he is hosting an Asia-Pacific summit.

"After the Assad regime flagrantly failed to keep its commitments, the Arab League has demonstrated leadership in its effort to end the crisis and hold the Syrian government accountable.

"These significant steps expose the increasing diplomatic isolation of a regime that has systematically violated human rights and repressed peaceful protests," he added.

For his part, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Saturday's decision by the Arab League to suspend Syria showed the "frustration" of its members at Assad's stance.

Hague, who has previously called for Assad to step aside over his regime's failure to end a government crackdown on protesters, said Britain shared the Arab League's frustration at Assad's "intransigence".

He said: "I welcome the strong stance taken by the Arab League today. "Its decision to suspend Syria from Arab League activity until the Syrian regime stops the repression of civilians and implements its commitments, demonstrates the frustration Arab League members feel at President Assad's continuing intransigence."

Hague added: "As Syrian security forces escalate the violence on the streets of Syria, we and others across the international community share this frustration.

"We support the Arab League in its efforts to bring about an end to the killing of Syrian people. The continuing violence is deplorable and must stop."

Obama's government ditched its earlier strategy of seeking engagement with the Assad regime after government forces unleashed a fierce crackdown on demonstrators, which the U.S. president deplored as "callous violence."

Now, Washington says Assad has lost legitimacy and must step down, and wants to see Syria trace a similar political transition to other states caught up in the Arab Spring uprisings that are reshaping the Middle East.

In Cairo, the Arab League said Syria's suspension would last "until the total implementation of the Arab plan for resolving the crisis accepted by Damascus on November 2."

Under the deal, Assad's regime agreed to release detainees, withdraw the army from urban areas, allow free movement for observers and media and negotiate with the opposition.

Instead, human rights groups say, the regime has intensified its crackdown, especially in the city of Homs, an epicenter of protests.

France, which has sought for months a firm condemnation of Syria at the U.N. Security Council, urged the international community to act swiftly to "make the violence end, protect the civilian population and allow for political transition in Syria," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.

He said the move demonstrated that "it is high time to step up pressure on the Syrian regime so that it immediately ends the savage repression against its population."

More than 3,500 people have been killed in the Syrian crackdown, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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