Al-Monitor’s Antoun Issa reported this week that the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad might consider taking up the offer for dialogue from Moaz Al-Khatib, head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
Al-Khatib gave new hope to a political solution to the Syrian crisis, which has been lagging, by expressing his willingness to meet Syrian officials outside of Damascus, if the Syrian government released 160,000 political prisoners and new Syrian passports to those that have expired.
Al-KHatib’s statement converged with that of Haytham Manna, head of the National Coordination Committee (NCC), representing some of Syria’s internal opposition, as noted in the Lebanese daily As-Safir this week and translated into English exclusively by Al-Monitor.
The positions of Al-Khtaib and Manna have put them at odds with the Syria National Council (SNC), a branch of the external opposition, which does not advocate dialogue with the Syrian crisis.
Issa conducted an exclusive, off-the-record interview with a Syrian official who described Al-Khatib’s statements as “a positive change, and hopefully it can carry on,” and that while a formal decision has not been made, the Syrian leadership is considering the offer.
The official said, “We have contacts with the coalition, with the moderate voices. They’re hesitant, some supportive [of Al-Khatib’s initiative],” while adding that they had not yet been in contact with Al-Khatib.
In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor last month, Syria’s minister of national reconciliation, Ali Haidar, repeated his call for the opposition to drop its demands for Assad’s resignation, adding “It is not logical to say that we will participate in dialogue after regime change. We participate in dialogue to achieve regime change.”
US Vice President Joseph Biden commended Al-Khatib’s offer for conditional negotiations with the Syrian government after the two met one-on-one on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 2.
Al-Khatib met separately in Munich with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who also praised Al-Khatib;s offer of talks as “a very important move… Realism has taken the upper hand.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, following his first ever meeting with Al-Khatib in Munich on Feb. 3, described the offer as “a good step forward.