Syrian endgame? Assad agrees to talks with armed opposition
There has been some microscopic movement by both sides toward a dialogue that might end the two yaer old civil war. President Assad offered for the first time to talk to the armed opposition - a concession that has the potential of breaking the diplomatic logjam.
Syria is ready for talks with its armed opponents, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Monday, in the clearest offer yet of negotiations with rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Brigadier Selim Idris, head of a rebel military command, demanded a complete ceasefire, the president's departure and the trial of his security and military chiefs as preconditions for negotiations. "We will not go (into talks) unless these demands are realized," he told Al Arabiya Television.
But Moualem said at the same time Syria would pursue its fight "against terrorism", alluding to the conflict with rebels in which the United Nations says 70,000 people have been killed.
Assad and his foes are locked in a bloody stalemate after nearly two years of combat, destruction and civilian suffering.
"We are ready for dialogue with everyone who wants it...Even with those who have weapons in their hands. Because we believe that reforms will not come through bloodshed but only through dialogue," Russia's Itar-Tass news agency quoted Moualem as saying.
He was speaking in Moscow at a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Russia is a staunch ally of Assad.
Moaz Alkhatib, head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said in Cairo he had not had held any contacts about talks with Damascus, but had postponed trips to Russia and the United States "until we see how things develop".
Syria's government and the political opposition have both suggested in recent weeks they are prepared for some contacts - softening their previous outright rejection of talks to resolve a conflict which has driven nearly a million Syrians out of the country and left millions more homeless and hungry.
But the opposition has said any political solution must be based on the removal of Assad, whose family has ruled Syria since 1970. Rebel fighters, who do not answer to Alkhatib, are even more insistent that Assad must go before any talks start.
If the Syrian National Coalition agrees to talk with Assad still in power, they are likely to lose some support from the Free Syrian Army as well as the bitter end jihadists who want to claim Syria for Sunni Islam.
But unless the opposition states at the outset that they will be negotiating a path for Assad to leave peacefully, they will have precious little support among the Syrian people and lose all credibility with the Syrian street, who still have a key role to play in post-war Syria.
But any movement, no matter how small, at this point is welcome.