The mystery of Syria’s missing-in-action foreign ministry spokesman


Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi speaks at a July 2012 press conference in Damascus. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/GettyImages)

BEIRUT – Vanished Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi on Wednesday attempted to clear up at least some of the mystery surrounding his whereabouts, saying in a statement that he is neither in the United States nor Europe, and asserting that he had left Syria for “personal” reasons.

But the cryptic statement, released in an e-mail to a small number of Arabic news outlets, seemed to beg almost as many questions as it answered about why the most public face of the Syrian regime abruptly disappeared in November, where he is now and what he is doing.

Makdissi confirmed the statement in a tweet from his Twitter account, and in a direct message on Twitter to a Washington Post correspondent, in which he also referenced a meeting in his office over a year ago.

 

Makdissi’s departure in late November sparked speculation that he had defected to the opposition, gone to Britain, been smuggled to the United States by the CIA, had been abducted from Lebanon by Syrian intelligence agents, or, had simply gone on a rather long shopping trip to Dubai, as reported by one Web site.

The mystery deepened after U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who has lived in Washington since the U.S. Embassy in Damascus closed a year ago but remains in his job, told CNN that Makdissi had sought asylum in the United States. The next day, however, the State Department contradicted Ford’s comments, denying that Makdissi was in the country and saying that Ford had “misspoken.”

In his recent statement, Makdissi offered no indication as to his location, except to say that he has “not set foot in Europe or America.” He said he had left Syria because “there is no place for moderation or compromise amid this chaos,” according to a version carried by Sky News Arabia and quoted by Reuters, but he stressed that he had not joined the opposition.

"I joined no one; I am independent," he said. He implied that he does sympathize with the opposition, saying that “the goals of the popular movement are frankly legitimate, in principle and in essence,” according to a version of the statement quoted by the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.

But he added that, while the opposition had won the battle for the hearts of Syrians, “They have not won the battle for the minds, for many reasons that are common knowledge."

Liz Sly is the Post’s Beirut bureau chief. She has spent more than 15 years covering the Middle East, including the Iraq war. Other postings include Africa, China and Afghanistan.

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