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Syrian, Lebanese Presidents to Meet in Paris


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in Paris where he is expected to meet with his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Suleiman, and attend a regional summit.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy Saturday welcomed the Syrian president at the Elysee palace in Paris. Later Saturday, Mr. al-Assad is meeting with the Lebanese leader for the first time since President Suleiman's election in May.

Mr. Suleiman told reporters ahead of the meeting that Lebanon is ready to re-establish diplomatic ties with Syria, including an exchange of ambassadors. The two countries severed diplomatic ties after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, which had been linked to Damascus. Syria has denied any involvement in the assassination.

The Syrian president described his visit to France as "historic" and as opening to France and to Europe.

Many Western countries, including the United States and France, cooled relations with Damascus after Mr. Hariri's assassination. The United States continues to view Syria as a sponsor of terrorism.

Mr. al-Assad will also join a number of world leaders to watch the annual Bastille Day parade in Paris during the French national holiday on July 14.

Mr. Sarkozy has invited leaders of more than 40 countries, including Arab nations and Israel, for a regional summit aimed at boosting cooperation between the European Union and Mediterranean countries.

Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, will also attend the summit of Mediterranean nations in Paris, but is not expected to meet separately with Mr. al-Assad.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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