Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad Reuters

France will not demand Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's departure as a precondition for peace talks, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday, according to the Reuters news agency.

"If we require, even before negotiations start, that Assad step down, we won't get far," Fabius was quoted as saying in an interview with the Le Figaro newspaper to be published in full on Tuesday.

The comments represent a softening of France's longtime position towards Assad. Paris has continuously criticized the Syrian president, describing him as a "dictator" and "a butcher".

France’s stance was several months ago hailed by Syria's exiled opposition as "exemplary".

The United States and Britain have already made similar shifts to their stances on Syria, as Russia bolsters its support for Assad with a military buildup in the country, noted Reuters. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday that the timing of Assad's exit following a peace deal would be negotiable.

France believes a diplomatic resolution would require the establishment of a government of national unity including elements of Assad's administration "to avoid the kind of collapse seen in Iraq", Fabius also said in the interview.