State television said Assad had set up a committee and charged it with "formulating general principles of dialogue that will open the way for the creation of an appropriate climate in which the different elements can express themselves and present their proposals."
The committee will include Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara, senior members of the ruling Baath Party and the National Progressive Front (NPF, a coalition of parties led by Baath), as well as one author and one teacher.
"All parties should contribute to widening participation (in the political process), to the development of an electoral law and to a law on political parties," Assad said.
The opposition has previously dismissed calls for dialogue, saying that this can take place only once the violence ends, political prisoners are freed and reforms adopted.
The demand that prisoners be freed was partially met today when, according to a rights activist, hundreds of detainees were released from prisons across the country under an amnesty declared by Assad yesterday.
"Hundreds of people have been released," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.