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France: Syria, Lebanon improve ties

PARIS – France’s president said Saturday that Syria and Lebanon will open embassies in each other’s countries for the first time. But Syria’s leader cautioned there was still work to be done before that could happen.

Syria and Lebanon have not had full-fledged embassies in each other’s countries since Lebanon became independent in 1943 and Syria in 1945. Syria dominated Lebanon for almost three decades until 2005, keeping tens of thousands of troops stationed in its smaller neighbor.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said last month that establishing diplomatic ties with Lebanon would be possible if a national unity Cabinet were formed in Beirut between the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority and the opposition led by Syrian ally Hezbollah. The unity government was formed Friday after weeks of haggling.

“President Bashar al-Assad’s will to open diplomatic representation in Lebanon is historic progress,” Sarkozy said after he met Assad and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman separately.

But Assad was more cautious on the opening of embassies, saying both countries must “define the steps to take to arrive at this stage.”

Suleiman said he wanted “an exchange of ambassadors and diplomatic relations with Syria.” He told reporters not to speak of normalizing ties between Lebanon and Syria because “they are completely normal.”