PARIS – France on Saturday welcomed a member of the Syrian opposition as the country’s ambassador, a bold bid to confer legitimacy on the week-old opposition coalition and encourage other Western nations to follow suit.
The new envoy, Mounzir Makhous, appeared before the press after talks at France’s presidential palace between President Francois Hollande and the head of the newly formed Syrian opposition coalition.
France has swiftly stepped out ahead of Western allies nearly since the start of the Syrian uprising 20 months ago. Saturday’s surprise announcement came even before the brand new coalition has named its provisional government and before a place in Paris to house the envoy has been found.
There will be an ambassador of Syria in France, Hollande announced.
France expelled its Syrian ambassador in May, along with more a half-dozen other countries.
Mouaz Al-Khatib, the opposition leader, described Makhous as one of the first to speak of liberty in Syria. He holds four doctoral degrees and belongs to the Muslim Alawite sect of President Bashar Assad, demonstrating an effort to reach out to all of Syria’s people, al-Khatib said.
France recognized the coalition days after it was formed last Sunday – and so far is the only Western country to do so.
France also took the lead in backing the Libyan opposition that ultimately ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi, and flew the first mission of the international coalition providing air support to Libyan rebels.
There is widespread fear that without a legitimate opposition force, the civil war in Syria could degenerate into sectarian battles pitting community upon community.
But, 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 before they recognize it.
Al-Khatib suggested that a provisional government made up of technocrats would come quickly, a move that would allow the ambassador to take up his functions.