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Lebanese president in Damascus for historic visit

Latest update : 2008-08-13

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman has arrived in Syria for a two-day meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, aimed at reestablishing relations. Just hours earlier, a bomb exploded in Tripoli, killing at least a dozen.

Newly-elected Lebanese President Michel Sleiman arrived in Damascus on Wednesday for a key meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Bachar al-Assad. Sleiman’s visit is the first by a Lebanese president to Syria since that country’s forces retreated from Lebanon in 2005.

      

Great hope surrounds the summit on both sides; the Syrian government newspaper Ath-Thawra said: "Syria will listen carefully to Michel Sleiman. There will be a dialogue capable of solving all pending issues."
 
Diplomatic relations, which sharply deteriorated after the murder of Lebanon’s popular former premier Rafiq Hariri, will top the agenda of the talks. Sleiman and Assad will seek to redefine borders, treaties and economic agreements struck when Syria dominated the Lebanese political scene. “Sleiman will ask Syria to reconsider the economic or diplomatic agreements which privilege the latter,” Hazimee said.
 
The Lebanese and Syrian leaders have already agreed to open embassies in each other’s capitals. They will also discuss the fate of the Lebanese-Syrian higher council, which coordinates relations between the two neighbours.

“Syria has always used the council as an excuse to avoid normalising diplomatic relations,” said Hazimee, adding that the council had no real power in itself.

The Lebanese parliamentary majority wants the council to be scrapped. However, the council's secretary general, Nasri Khouri, said embassies did not spell the end of the coordination body. "There will be coordination between the two countries' embassies and the council," he told AFP.

The agenda of the two-day visit also features prickly issues such as the Lebanese detainees in Syria and the future of Israeli-occupied Shebaa farms, diplomatic sources told the AFP.
     
“This is a test visit for Syria to see if it will respect commitments taken during meetings with Sarkozy and the Qatari emir,” Hazimee said.

Indeed, the pro- and anti-Syrian camps in Lebanon struck a deal at Doha, in Qatar, to overcome the political deadlock, paving the way for the formation of a national unity government under Sleiman’s leadership.

Assad and Sleiman agreed to finally set up ties at a meeting over the creation of a Union for the Mediterranean last month in France, their former colonial power.

Date created : 2008-08-13

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