PARIS – France on Saturday welcomed a member of the Syrian opposition as the country’s ambassador, a bold bid to confer legitimacy on the week-old opposition coalition and encourage other Western nations to follow suit.

The new envoy, Mounzir Makhous, appeared before the media after talks at the presidential palace between President Francois Hollande and the head of the newly formed Syrian opposition coalition.

France has swiftly stepped out ahead of Western allies almost since the start of the Syrian uprising 20 months ago. Saturday’s surprise announcement came even before the new coalition has named its provisional government and before a place in Paris was found to house the envoy.

“There will be an ambassador of Syria in France,” Hollande announced. France expelled its Syrian ambassador in May, as did more than a half-dozen other countries.

Mouaz Al-Khatib, the opposition leader, described Makhous as “one of the first to speak of liberty” in Syria. He holds four doctorate degrees and belongs to the Muslim Alawite sect of President Bashar Assad, demonstrating an effort to reach out to all of Syria’s people, al-Khatib said.

France recognized the coalition days after it was formed Nov. 11 — and so far is the only Western country to do so.

France also took the lead in backing the Libyan opposition that ultimately ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi, and flew the first mission of the international coalition providing air support to Libyan rebels.

There is widespread fear that without a legitimate opposition force the civil war in Syria could degenerate into sectarian battles.

But, other EU nations and the U.S. have said they prefer to wait and see whether the coalition truly represents the variety of people that make up Syria before they recognize it.

More than 36,000 people have died so far in the uprising.