The embattled Syrian government has assigned at least two senior officials to reach out to the political opposition inside and outside Syria, in the latest efforts to start a national reconciliation dialogue proposed by President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told reporters on Wednesday.
Mekdad was paying a four-day visit to Beijing after Moaz Alkhatib, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said on Saturday that he was ready to meet Assad's deputy, Farouq al-Shara, on the condition that tens of thousands of political prisoners are freed.
The major opposition umbrella group has rejected any talks with the Assad regime in the past 23 months, which have seen the country engulfed by violence and over 60,000 people killed.
"The political program presented by President Assad in late December was based on the idea of dialogue. So we welcome any initiative to defuse the ongoing crisis via dialogues," Mekdad said.
The Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil and Minister of National Reconciliation Ali Haidar have been commissioned to reach out to the political opposition inside and outside Syria and invite them to a national dialogue. At the same time, the governors of different provinces in Syria have been entrusted with starting dialogues with all components within Syrian society, according to Mekdad.
"We hope the dialogue could start within two months," Mekdad said. "But the violence on the ground must be ended before any talks and the participants of the dialogue must be all Syrians, although it is not necessarily to take place inside Syria."
However, the Syrian National Council, a powerful bloc dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood inside the Coalition, said Alkhatib made an "individual decision" by launching the initiative for talks, which contradicts the Coalition's charter calling for "the downfall of the regime with all its symbols and components."
Thirty members of the Coalition have demanded an emergency meeting of the 70-member assembly to "chart an urgent strategy after the reverberations of the initiative."
"We know the initiative for talks is extremely hard," given the fact that the so-called Syrian opposition is composed of hundreds of smaller groups widely apart from each other, Mekdad said.
Syria is "grateful" to China for its impartial stance on the Syrian issue and hopes countries like China, Russia and Iran can continue to support a peaceful resolution to the entangled problems, Mekdad added.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, in a later meeting with Mekdad on Wednesday, said a push for a political solution to the Syrian crisis at this crucial time was urgently needed.
Chinese Ambassador to Egypt Song Aiguo held a meeting with Alkhatib in Cairo on Tuesday, and said China hopes that all Syrian parties will soon launch inclusive political dialogues and reach a solution through patient and thorough negotiations and consultations on an equal footing, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
In another development, the Syrian National Coalition will reportedly open liaison offices in New York and Washington to facilitate the meetings of its leadership with officials from the US and other UN Security Council members.
Agencies contributed to this story