The French Foreign Minister has confirmed that one of the Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad's inner circle of trusted confidantes, General Secretary Manaf Tlass, has defected to France.

Tlass's father, Mustafa, is a former Defence Minister. You can see him here on Assad's right and here again in the fold at a ruling party meeting. And the now defected Manaf even attended military college with Assad! Just days after the UN met to discuss sanctions and an exit strategy for the President, he's been dealt something of a bitter blow. Turkey's Foreign Minister said defections proved that the Syrian government is crumbling. Although pro-government website 'Syriasteps' said Tlass had made an "escape", adding that the move was "insignificant"

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius greeted delegates for today's 'Friends of Syria' meeting in Paris, where states opposed to Assad's regime, and who want to drive him from power, are discussing how to support Syrian rebels and provide aid. Rumours that Tlass would turn up there proved false, but Fabius confirmed Tlass actually was en route to France from Turkey.

Russia and China are boycotting the meeting which they claim is 'one-sided' but US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, had a forthright message for fellow delegates: 'I ask you to reach out to Russia and China and urge them but demand that they get off the sidelines and begin to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people'

Until then, it looks like Tlass's defection might well encourage similar moves in what could be the start of a real crumbling of the current Syrian regime.