China says Syrian deputy foreign minister to visit

BEIJING Mon Feb 4, 2013 5:07am EST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Makdad will visit China this week to meet with China's foreign minister Yang Jiechi, in what Beijing said was part of its efforts to push for a political solution to end fighting in the country.

Makdad will be in China from February 4-7, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing. He will also meet vice-foreign minister Zhai Jun.

"This is part of China's effort to push for a political resolution of the Syrian issue," Hua said.

Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, last visited China, one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, in April last year.

China, along with Russia, has blocked three Security Council resolutions aimed at pushing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out or pressuring him to end a civil war in which more than 60,000 people have died.

But China has been keen to show it is not taking sides, inviting both Syrian government officials and opposition members to visit, despite having little influence in the Middle East.

It has urged the Syrian government to talk to the opposition and take steps to meet demands for political change, and has said a transitional government should be formed.

(The first and second paragraphs of the story has been corrected to show that visit is by Syria's deputy foreign minister)

(Reporting by Terril Yue Jones; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)