French President Francois Hollande and the new Syrian opposition leader announced plans Saturday to install an ambassador to represent Syria in France.
The surprise move came after talks at France's presidential palace between Hollande and Moaz al-Khatib, head of the newly formed Syrian opposition coalition. France recognized the coalition days after it was formed on Sunday — and is so far the only Western country to do so.
Hollande also confirmed that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was at Saturday's talk, will raise the issue of lifting the EU arms embargo against Syria at a meeting Monday in Brussels among European Union foreign ministers.
Fabius has suggested supplying defensive weapons so Syrian rebels can protect themselves from attacks by the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.
More than 36,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising against Assad began in March 2011 and the new coalition is pressing for the means to defend Syrian civilians.
Since May 2011, the EU has imposed a ban on the export of weapons and equipment to Syria that could be used for "internal repression. "
France has taken the lead in efforts to oust Assad's regime, and Hollande reiterated Saturday that the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces is for France the sole representative of the Syrian people and a future provisional government.
Fabius will also press EU partners to recognize the coalition, Holllande said.
"''We have no hidden agenda," al-Khatib said in a bid to reassure other nations.
Hollande said al-Khatib, a preacher-turned-activist, reassured him that the coalition he leads seeks unity of the Syrian people and France aim in moving quickly is to "assure its legitimacy and credibility."
The United States and other EU nations have said they prefer to wait and see whether the coalition truly represents the variety of people that make up Syria.
The coalition replaces the fractious Syrian National Council as the main opposition group — also recognized first by France — although that group makes up about a third of the 60-plus members of the new coalition.
"There will be an ambassador of Syria in France," Hollande, with al-Khatib at his side, told reporters after the meeting. He conceded later that a proper locale must still be found to house him. The current Syrian Embassy building doesn't belong to France, he noted.
Al-Khatib quickly named him, Mounzir Makhous, describing him as "one of the first to speak of liberty" in Syria and, significantly, belonging to the Muslim Alawite sect of Islam, like Assad. Al-Khatib said Makhous holds four doctorate degrees.
It was widely believed that France might agree to the appointment of an ambassador, but not before a provisional government was formed. Al-Khatib suggested that a provisional government would come quickly.
Al-Khatib, with the coalition's two vice-presidents, Riad Seif and Suheir, met in London on Monday with representatives of Britain, France, Germany, the United States and Turkey and Qatar. Lifting the arms embargo was discussed there as well.
He returned to London on Friday to meet with Britain's foreign minister.