Veteran Syrian diplomat Mekdad named foreign minister, state media says

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Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad, attends the funeral of Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moalem, at Saad bin Muath Mosque in Damascus
Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad, attends the funeral of Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moalem, at Saad bin Muath Mosque in Damascus

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syria's President Bashar al Assad named veteran diplomat Faisal Mekdad as foreign minister on Sunday to replace Walid Moalem, who died last week, state media reported.

Mekdad, 66, had been deputy foreign minister since 2006. He has also held a string of diplomatic posts, including envoy to the United Nations.

Assad also appointed Bashar al-Jaafari, currently ambassador to the U.N., as deputy foreign minister.

Mekdad, like Moalem, is a staunch defender of Assad's bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters in 2011, when thousands took to the streets calling for an end to the Assad family's decades-old authoritarian rule that later erupted into a full-scale civil war.

Moalem died last Monday at the age of 79, after suffering years of heart problems.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif phoned Mekdad and congratulated him on his new position, stressing Tehran's "continued strategic cooperation" with Syria, official Iranian media outlets said.

Mekdad is a strong advocate of strengthening ties with Iran and Russia, the two main allies who have helped shore up Assad's rule and allowed him to regain most of the territory he once lost to the armed opposition.

The veteran diplomat has also been the country's main interlocuter with U.N. agencies and foreign agencies based in Damascus and instrumental in efforts to divert aid to serve the cash-strapped government's priorities, U.N. sources and international aid workers say.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Paul Simao)