CAIRO (Reuters) - Qatar, which has led efforts to isolate President Bashar al-Assad, told Arab ministers on Saturday it was time to recognize the Syrian opposition as the nation's legitimate representative.
Arabs and Western states have till now held off from recognizing the opposition Syrian National Council, in part because diplomats have said it has not always shown a united front and it was not clear whether it could command the support of Syrians on the ground who have led street protests.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution based on an Arab peace plan, joined the Arab meeting.
"We advise the opposition, across the spectrum, to rise above their differences and merge into one voice that expresses the aspirations of their people so that they can face the tyranny of the regime," Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told an Arab foreign ministers meeting.
"Here we call for the recognition of the Syrian National Council as the Syrian people's legitimate representative," Sheikh Hamad, who is also Qatar's foreign minister, said in opening remarks.
He said that he hoped Lavrov's presence would allow for reaching "agreement about the crisis"
"The time has come to go by the suggestion calling for Arab-international forces to be sent to Syria," Sheikh Hamad said.
It was not immediately clear if he was referring to the Arab League's call in February for sending a joint U.N.-Arab peacekeeping force or was referring to a separate initiative.
(Writing by Edmund Blair)