BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad made his first appearance on state TV in nearly three weeks Tuesday in a show of solidarity with a senior Iranian envoy even as the U.S. secretary of state urged stepping up international planning for the regime's collapse.
The contrasts couldn't have been more vivid: Assad and Iran's Saeed Jalili vowing to defeat the rebels and their backers, while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton predicted Assad's regime was quickly unraveling, with high-level defections such as his prime minister's switch to the rebel side.
It also highlighted Assad's deepening reliance on a shrinking list of allies, led by Tehran. Assad — seen on state TV for the first time since a July 18 bombing in Damascus killed four of his top security officials — used Jalili's visit to portray a sense of command and vowed to fight his opponents "relentlessly."
Jalili, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, promised Iran would stand by Syria against its international "enemies" — a clear reference to the rebels' Western backers and others such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
While there were no public pledges of greater military assistance to Assad, the mission by Jalili appeared to reflect Iran's efforts to reassure Syria of its backing and ease speculation that Tehran also could be making contingencies for Assad's possible fall.
On a visit to South Africa, Clinton described Assad's regime as splintering from Monday's defection of Syria's prime minister, Riad Hijab, and other military and political figures breaking away in recent months. She urged international leaders to begin work on a "good transition plan" to try to keep Syria from collapsing into more chaos after Assad.
"I am not going to put a timeline on it. I can't possibly predict it, but I know it's going to happen as do most observers around the world," Clinton said.
A post-Assad Syria presents a host of worrisome scenarios, including a bloody cycle of revenge and power grabs by the country's factions. They include the Sunni-led rebels and Assad's minority Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam and part of its close bonds with Shiite power Iran.
A growing humanitarian crisis is already taking hold. Close to 48,000 Syrians have already taken refuge in Turkey, which has served as a staging ground for rebels. Even more refugees have crossed into Jordan and Lebanon.