Syria to normalize relations with Lebanon


Paris : Syria is determined to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon, according to a joint French-Syrian statement issued in Paris Saturday.

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And France is to push for closer ties between Syria and the European Union (EU) in its capacity as current holder of the bloc’s rotating presidency.

The statement was issued after a meeting at the Elysée Palace between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Syrian counterpart, Bachar al-Assad.

“The French president commended the strong determination of the Syrian president to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon,” the statement read.

The meeting between Sarkozy and Assad came a day after the formation of a national unity government in Lebanon and just minutes before the two were due to meet Lebanon’s new president, Michel Suleiman, and Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Qatar emir who helped broker a peace deal in Lebanon.

It was the first meeting between the Lebanese and Syrian heads of state since Lebanon’s pro-Western and Syrian-backed factions reached an agreement in May to end the country’s worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. Suleiman said he wished to normalize diplomatic relations with Syria through the opening of embassies in Damascus and Beirut.

Heads of state and government from a number of Arab countries are in Paris for the weekend to attend the launch of the Union for the Mediterranean, an initiative by Sarkozy designed to establish stronger ties between the EU and its southern neighbours.

Sarkozy held a series of meetings ahead of Sunday’s launch.

With Assad he discussed bilateral issues as well the evolving situation in the Middle East. And Sarkozy’s office later said the president had accepted an invitation to visit Damascus in early September.

In their joint statement, France and Syria acknowledged that progress between Syria and Israel had also been made through indirect talks mediated by Turkey. And the Syrian president expressed his wish that “France, together with the United States, fully contribute to a future peace agreement between Syria and Israel”.

Sarkozy said he would work to sign an association agreement between the EU and Syria in his role as president of the EU. Discussions on the text ended in 2004.