Lebanon expects full diplomatic ties with Syria within 2 months

A Lebanese unity government formed Tuesday gives Hezbullah a strong say in Lebanon's decision-making.

assad suleiman 224,88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
assad suleiman 224,88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Lebanon's foreign minister said Saturday he expects diplomatic ties with Syria to be fully established and ambassadors to be exchanged within two months. Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said the Cabinet will give its approval on the diplomatic ties Thursday. Later, it will issue a separate decree for an embassy in Syria, he said. Salloukh spoke in an interview with The Associated Press two days after the presidents of Lebanon and Syria agreed to establish full diplomatic ties for the first time since the two countries gained independence from France more than 60 years ago. The two countries also agreed to negotiate the demarcation of their border, a longtime demand of the Lebanese as they seek to normalize relations with their long dominant larger neighbor. Once formal approval has been made by both countries, their foreign ministers will work out an agreement finalizing the deal, Salloukh said. He said he expected that to take one to two months. The agreements on diplomatic ties and the border were announced Thursday during a landmark visit by President Michel Suleiman to Damascus for talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad. It was the first visit by a Lebanese head of state in three years. Syria and Lebanon have not had official diplomatic ties since they became independent from France in the 1940s, and there have not been any official attempts to define the border. Many Lebanese saw that as a sign Syria did not recognize Lebanon's sovereignty and harbored designs to dominate it. "The Lebanese-Syrian summit was meant to re-establish brotherly and genuine relations between the two countries," Suleiman said Saturday in a statement released by his office. Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who has long accused Syria of interfering in Lebanon's internal politics, has praised the decision on diplomatic ties. Suleiman's visit to Damascus was "important on the road to building equal and genuine Lebanese-Syrian relations," Saniora said at a Cabinet meeting Friday. Syria controlled Lebanon for nearly 30 years after sending in troops as peacekeepers during the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war. Its direct hold was broken in 2005, when international pressure and street protests over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri - which many blamed on Damascus - forced Syrian troops to leave. Syria has denied any role in the killing. Syria agreed to the diplomatic steps only after a Lebanese unity government was formed Tuesday that gives the Syrian-allied militant Hezbullah group a strong say in Lebanon's decision-making.