Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara made his first public appearance in over a month on Sunday, following rumours that he had tried to defect and was under house arrest.
Shara, who met the head of the Iranian parliament’s foreign policy committee, Aladin Borujerdi, was last seen in public at a state funeral for top security officials who were killed in a Damascus bomb blast on July 18.
Speculation has swirled since last week over the fate of Shara, the highest-ranking Sunni Muslim official in President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite-led regime, since the opposition claimed he had tried to defect.
Assad’s regime has been rattled by several high-profile defections as the Syrian conflict has escalated, including former prime minister Riad Hijab and prominent General Manaf Tlass, one of Assad’s childhood friends.
The July 18 bomb attack claimed by the Free Syrian Army also dealt him a major blow, killling four top security officials including defence minister Daoud Rajha and his deputy Assef Shawkat, Assad’s brother-in-law.
After the opposition claims that Shara had defected, state television on August 19 quoted a statement from his office saying: “Mr Shara has never thought about leaving the country or going anywhere.”
A former deputy oil minister who defected in March this year also said earlier this month that it was “well-known” that Shara had tried to leave the country and was under house arrest.
Borujerdi, whose government is Damasus’s staunchest ally, was quoted by the state news agency IRNA as saying Sunday: “We see Syria’s security as our security. On this basis, we will stick by our Syrian brothers.”
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem also said the government would only look at negotiating with the opposition after “purging Syria of armed groups,” IRNA reported.
Borujerdi also met Assad, Syria’s state news agency SANA said,
SANA had said on Saturday that a fake email had been sent out in its name claiming that Shara had been sacked, adding that the “information is completely wrong.”
It was also forced to deny that Muallem had announced on Twitter he had replaced Shara, saying the information was “wrong” and that the foreign minister did not have a Twitter account.
Shara, 73, has served in senior posts for almost 30 years under both Assad and his father and predecessor Hafez al-Assad.
Hijab, the highest profile government figure to defect, said on August 15 after fleeing to Jordan that regime only controlled 30 percent of Syria’s territory and had “collapsed militarily, economically and morally.”