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Syria establishes diplomatic ties with Lebanon
Mideast Syria Leban 4935399
A poster shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, and Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, right, attached on a window shop with an Arabic writing that reads :" God protect Syria and Lebanon," in downtown Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008. Assad issued a decree on Tuesday establishing diplomatic relations with Lebanon _ a move reflecting Syria's readiness to meet key Western demands toward regional issues as it pursues indirect peace talks with Israel. - photo by Associated Press
    DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria formally recognized Lebanon for the first time Tuesday by establishing diplomatic relations with its neighbor — meeting a U.S. demand to do more for regional stability even as Damascus pursues indirect peace talks with Israel.
    Lebanon and Syria have not had formal diplomatic ties since both gained independence from France in the 1940s and the move by President Bashar Assad ends six decades of non-recognition. He announced plans to open an embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut.
    Shortly after that, Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said a similar decree had been issued in Lebanon for establishing a Lebanese embassy in Syria.
    ‘‘This step indicates a new era in Lebanese-Syrian relations marked by brotherhood and cooperation,’’ he said.
    Relations between the Arab nations have been lopsided since the 1970s, when Syria sent its army into Lebanon and retained control there for nearly 30 years. Ties unraveled when former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a 2005 car bombing that many Lebanese blame on Syria — a charge Syria denies.
    Hariri’s assassination triggered huge anti-Syrian street protests and Damascus caved to U.S.-led international pressure and withdrew its tens of thousands of troops from Lebanon a few months after the bombing.
    But establishing diplomatic relations remained a pressing demand of the anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon’s parliament, which saw Syria’s refusal to do so as a refusal to recognize Lebanese sovereignty.
    Some observers say Syria is more comfortable dealing with Lebanon now that its ally Hezbollah has gained veto power in a unity government that was formed in July. In May, Lebanon installed a president sympathetic to Syria.
    Just a few months later in August, Lebanon and Syria agreed to establish ties and demarcate their contentious border. That landmark agreement marked a final break in Syria’s longtime dominance over its smaller neighbor.
    The West is slowly moving away from a policy of isolating Syria in recent years and has instead tried to engage it more in Mideast issues. Recognition of Lebanon could help Syrian aspirations to build trust with the West as it pursues indirect talks with Israel, mediated through Turkey.
    The two nations have held four rounds of indirect talks so far and Assad recently said he is looking to have direct, face-to-face talks next year. The talks, however, have not made any significant headway, and Syria said last month that a fifth round of talks was postponed at the Jewish state’s request.
    Ibrahim al-Darraji, a professor of international law at Damascus University, said diplomatic relations with Lebanon ‘‘could potentially make it easier to coordinate’’ between two countries in future peace negotiations with Israel. ‘‘But the nonexistence of diplomatic relations was never an obstacle in the past,’’ he added.
    A spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment Tuesday, a Jewish holiday.
    Assad’s decree, carried by Syria’s official SANA news agency, said a ‘‘diplomatic mission for the Syrian Arab Republic at the embassy level will be established in the Lebanese capital.’’ It did not provide details or say when the embassy would open.
    The foreign ministries of both countries said embassies would be set up before the end of the year.

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