(MOSCOW) — There were a couple of key developments on Monday that could finally put Syria on the path to ending the bloody two-year conflict that has cost more than 70,000 lives and threatens to further destabilize the Middle East.
In Moscow, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad was now willing to hold talks with the armed opposition without mentioning any preconditions for negotiations.
Al-Assad has previously refused to speak directly with forces he has consistently labeled as “terrorists” so this new policy shift could signal the Syrian leader has reached a point where he realizes a military victory is unattainable.
There was no immediate word from al-Assad’s enemies on whether they’ll engage in discussions. Since the government crackdown began in March 2011, opposition fighters have maintained that no real change can occur in Syria with al-Assad still at the helm.
In another development that bolstered optimism of a solution to the ongoing conflict, the main exile opposition group, the Syrian Opposition Coalition, said it was reversing course and would attend the Friends of Syria conference in Rome this week. The Friends of Syria group includes the U.S. and other nations determined to see al-Assad’s ouster.
The coalition has been upset with what it perceived as a lack of support from the international community, but apparently a call from Secretary of State John Kerry convinced Sheik Mouaz al-Khatib, the group’s leader, to change his mind about attending the conference in Rome.
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Ralph Ellis, Ben Wedeman and Michael Pearson, CNN
Mohammed Tawfeeq, Joe Sterling and Susanna Capelouto, CNN