Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib renewed his offer of dialogue with the government of President Bashar al-Assad, saying he’s willing to hold the meetings in rebel-held areas in northern Syria.
The talks should focus on finding a way for Assad to leave power to prevent “more death and destruction,” al-Khatib said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
It was al-Khatib’s second call for dialogue and came as the deadline for his first initiative expired. Syria’s government had ignored his earlier offer, which set a deadline that expired last night and included a call for the release of prisoners as a precondition for talks.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad told Al-Mayadeen TV that Assad, as president of the country “entrusted with the unity of its land and people,” should “preside over any resolution of the crisis and supervise it,” the state-run Sana news agency said.
Mekdad said the participants in any talks should lay down their arms, reject foreign military intervention in Syria and agree to preserve the country’s unity.
Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar, said he was unsure the calls for dialogue will produce results, especially since “the regime feels it still can ride out this.”
“These are early skirmishes,” he said by phone from Doha. “Serious dialogue will only begin once there’s an understanding that we are discussing a post-Assad transition.”
The government may see benefits from discussion about a political dialogue including “slowing down the level of support to the rebels, or at least making countries like the U.S. still reluctant to engage in that,” he said.
On the ground, rebels fighting Assad’s government, including the Islamist Al-Nusra Front, have captured al-Furat Dam on the Euphrates River in Raqqa Province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mail.