UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Syrian National Coalition will open offices in New York and Washington as it prepares for meetings of Syrian opposition leaders with U.S. officials and U.N. Security Council members, a U.N. envoy and a Syrian opposition source said on Tuesday.
"That is an important step and it's obviously a potential vehicle for inviting over ... (coalition leader Moaz) Alkhatib to come to New York at some point," a senior Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Najib Ghadbian, an Syrian-American professor at the University of Arkansas, would head the New York office, he added. Ghadbian could not be reached immediately for comment.
Another diplomat said the purpose of the New York office would be to open a channel of communication with the U.N. Security Council, which has long been divided over Syria's 22-month-long conflict that has killed an estimated 60,000 people.
Russia and China support the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and have vetoed three Security Council resolutions condemning it.
A source close to the Syrian opposition confirmed that the Washington office would be headed by Oubab Khalil, a realtor in Frisco, Texas. One of the first tasks of the Washington office would be to prepare for a possible trip to the United States by Alkhatib toward the end of the February, the source said.
That visit could include a meeting with President Barack Obama, the source said.
Khalil was not immediately reachable for comment.
Establishing liaison offices in New York and Washington could help Syria's fractious opposition improve its credibility as it seeks support for rebels fighting to overthrow Assad's government.
The rebels are poorly armed compared to Assad's army and loyalist militias, which means the government can likely keep fighting after nearly two years of civil war, U.N. diplomats said. Although the rebels are receiving some arms from countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, such military assistance is minimal, they said.
The United States and other Western countries are reluctant to arm the Syrian rebels and have limited their support to non-lethal aid.
Alkhatib has urged Syria's government to start talks with the opposition on Assad relinquishing power to save the country from greater ruin after almost two years of bloodshed.
Seeking to step up pressure on Assad to respond to his offer of talks, which dismayed some in his own opposition coalition, Alkhatib said he would be ready to meet with Assad's deputy.
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari did not respond to a request for comment on the Syrian National Coalition's decision to open the offices in the United States.
Additional reporting by Warren Strobel in Washington; editing by Christopher Wilson