MONTREUX, Switzerland (REUTERS) - Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday that talks to end the war in Syria should cover all topics of concern to the two sides, including the future of President Bashar al-Assad.
Asked about Mr Assad's future, Mr Wang told reporters: "All issues of concern to the two sides should be put on the table including the one you mentioned just now." He said the talks should begin by tackling the easiest issues and then move onto more difficult ones.
"I believe as long as the negotiation continues without disruption, then as the dialogue deepens and trust grows between the two parties, all issues should and can be resolved."
Syria's government and opposition, meeting for the first time, vented their mutual hostility on Wednesday and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem insisted Mr Assad's future was not in question. "Nobody in this world has a right to withdraw legitimacy from a president or government ... other than the Syrians themselves," he said.
Mr Wang said that at start of the peace talks, which begin in earnest on Friday in Geneva, the international community should push the two parties to form a framework setting out the direction and principles of the negotiations.
"They should not at the beginning mire themselves in argumentation or debates on issues where their positions are quite far apart," he said.
Mr Wang said the two sides should strive to deliver an "early harvest" to build confidence, such as prisoner releases, local ceasefires and humanitarian cooperation. International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said the two sides might be ready to take such steps.
Asked about the possibility of a UN Security Council resolution on humanitarian access, Mr Wang said China was deeply sympathetic to the plight of the 2.4 million Syrian refugees, but it would be wrong to politicise the humanitarian issue.
"At the moment the process of providing humanitarian assistance is smooth, generally speaking," he said. "I believe there are no difficulties or obstacles that are insurmountable in the process of implementing humanitarian assistance."