Farouk Al-Sharaa is technically still the vice-president of Syria, but is quick to remind everyone that he doesn't make any decisions on behalf of the regime. He also can't totally explain away the rumors that he had defected or was placed under house arrest. But in an interview published today with the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, al-Sharaa lays the groundwork for a possible future Syria where he and some other leaders aren't run out of the country, or worse, made to answer for the crimes of their boss.
In the interview, al-Sharaa says that the Syrian opposition cannot claim to be a legitimate representative of the people (as the United States and most of Europe have declared), but also confesses that the ruling Baath party has also lost its legitimacy and "cannot achieve change and progress alone without new partners." He also says that neither side can win a definitive military victory without destroying all of Syria and that "a historic settlement" is in order.
A peace negotiation would obviously suit al-Sharaa just fine, since one of the main ideas being floated is Russian-backed plan that would put him in Bashar al-Assad's place as president of Syria. By distancing himself from Assad without fully turning his back on him, the entire interview seems calculated toward promoting a solution that places the vice president as a moderating force for peace—and a natural successor. There's even some speculation among Syrian Twitterers that Assad himself was behind the interview as a signal that he's finally willing to negotiate a withdrawal. (Sharra may or may not be part of the inner circle, but he hasn't made any public comments in over a year. Why let a man who is supposed to part of your government suddenly speak so openly of a military stalemate?)
Almost all observers seem to agree that Assad is getting desperate as it becomes more and more clear that he will not be able to hold on to his country much longer. His options are fight to the death or look for an exit, and perhaps the latter is becoming the more attractive option. Even if he isn't the one floating ideas of peace talks, it's clear that those near to him—and those watching from the outside—are already thinking about the future without him. That's never a good sign for a dictator. By pushing the idea that he's not responsible for the war, while also praising Iran and the Palestinians, al-Sharaa is showing that those who want to lead Syria next have to begin by proving they can lead an Arab people and distance themselves from the carnage that has killed so many of them.