Syria extends invitation to Lebanese president
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Visiting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (photo) handed Lebanese president Michel Sleiman an invitation for a state visit to Syria in an effort to open a new chapter in relations between the two countries.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman will visit Syria soon to discuss establishing diplomatic ties between the neighbouring countries, the Syrian foreign minister said on Monday.
Walid Moualem handed Suleiman an invitation to Damascus in what would be the first official visit by a Lebanese president to Syria in more than three years.
"We in Damascus are expecting the visit of President Michel Suleiman at the nearest opportunity," Moualem told reporters after meeting the Lebanese leader in Beirut.
He said establishing diplomatic ties was under "serious discussion" between the leaders of the two countries but cast doubt on Lebanon's readiness for such a move.
"After we spoke of an embassy, I don't know if you (Lebanese) want an embassy or not. We don't know what some in Lebanon want," Moualem said. "We are determined to open an embassy and to exchange diplomatic representation, but this determination has to be shared."
Many Lebanese, as well as major world powers, have demanded that Syria establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon, a move seen as necessary to seal its recognition of Lebanese independence.
Syria dominated Lebanon for nearly 30 years until a Lebanese uproar and international pressure over the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri forced it to withdraw its troops.
Damascus still enjoys good ties with powerful allies in Beirut, especially the Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah group, which is also backed by Iran.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Suleiman agreed to normalise relations during talks in Paris earlier this month.
Some Lebanese leaders in the anti-Syrian majority coalition want both countries to tear up all treaties they signed during Syria's dominance of Beirut.
Moualem said a joint Syrian-Lebanese committee of judges would soon reinvigorate its work to determine the fate of Lebanese who disappeared after they were allegedly detained by Syrian troops in Lebanon during the 1975-1990 civil war.
Relatives of some of the hundreds of missing say they believe their loved ones are held in Syrian jails. Syria has denied it is holding any Lebanese political prisoners.
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