Syria's top diplomat and long-time foreign minister Walid al-Moalem, a staunch defender of Syrian President Bashar Assad, died on Monday, the government said.
There were no details on the cause of death, but the 79-year old had for years been in poor health with heart problems.
A source close to the Syrian government said it was widely expected his deputy, veteran diplomat Faisal Mekdad, would replace his as foreign minister. Another leading candidate is Bouthaina Shaaban, who is currently the political and media adviser to Assad.
Moalem, who was first appointed foreign minister in 2006 and was also a deputy prime minister, held a succession of top diplomatic posts, including envoy to the United States and was involved in unsuccessful negotiations with Israel in the 1990's on a peace settlement.
"He was known for his honorable patriotic positions," the government said in a statement, adding he died at dawn and would be buried later on Monday in Damascus.
The veteran diplomat believed the Assad regime would weather the country's civil war. He claimed superpowers were using terrorist organizations to destabilize and destroy Syria but that ultimately they had no interest in disbanding the regime as they had in Iraq.
Moalem, from a Sunni family from Damascus, publicly defended Moscow and Shi'ite Iran's growing military role, backed by its proxies in Syria, which many Syrian opponents of Assad labelled as an occupation and blamed for fueling sectarian tension in a Sunni-majority country.