“I announce I am ready for direct discussions with representatives of the Syrian regime in Cairo, Tunis or Istanbul,” Khatib said via his Facebook page, citing as another condition that passports for exiled citizens be renewed.
Khatib’s announcement came amid international warning that Syria might fall into the hands of radical Islamists if no solution to the crisis is reached.
U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be able to hold to power for now but warned that Syria is “breaking up before everyone’s eyes.”
“The Syrian regime’s legitimacy has been seriously, probably irreparably, damaged,” Brahimi told the 15-nation council behind closed doors, council diplomats present at the meeting told Reuters.
Brahimi added that he had “no progress” to report in his efforts to establish talks on a political transition in the country where 22 months of conflict have left more than 60,000 dead.
France’s foreign minister had warned that Syria risks falling into the hands of Islamist militant groups if supporters of the Syrian opposition do not do more to help it in a 22-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
Addressing the opening of a conference in Paris with senior members of the Syrian National Coalition, Laurent Fabius said the meeting must focus on making the opposition politically and militarily cohesive to encourage international assistance.
“Facing the collapse of a state and society, it is Islamist groups that risk gaining ground if we do not act as we should,” he said. “We cannot let a revolution that started as a peaceful and democratic protest degenerate into a conflict of militias.”
Western concern over the growing strength of jihadist militants fighting autonomously in the disorganized ranks of anti-Assad rebel forces is rising. This has hindered international aid to the moderate Syrian National Coalition opposition and may push it more into the arms of conservative Muslim backers, diplomatic sources say.
France said last week there was no sign Assad was about to be overthrown, reversing previous statements that he could not hold out long, while Jordan’s King Abdullah said the authoritarian Syrian leader would consolidate his grip for now.
The European Union is set to review its arms embargo on Syria at the end of February.