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Syria and Lebanon to Open Embassies


Syria and Lebanon said Saturday they have agreed to establish diplomatic relations and open embassies in either country's capital for the first time since Lebanon's independence in 1943. Lisa Bryant has more for VOA from Paris, where Syrian and Lebanese leaders met ahead of a Euro-Mediterranean summit.

The announcement that the two countries would establish full diplomatic ties was made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, following four-way talks between the presidents of France, Syria and Lebanon and the emir of Quatar.

At a press conference at the Elysee palace, Mr. Sarkozy called the agreement by Syria and Lebanon to establish embassies "historic." The two countries have not had embassies since each earned independence, more than 60 years ago. He said certain legal questions still needed to be resolved.

Mr. Sarkozy also said he had asked Syria's help in resolving what he called the Iranian problem - referring the Iran's nuclear program.

Many Western nations suspect Tehran is building a nuclear bomb, but the Iranian government insists its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes.

Syrian President Assad said he would speak to the Iranians but asserted there appears to be no evidence Iran's program has military purposes.

Mr. Assad also said it was important for France and the European Union to play a role in the Middle East peace process along with the United States. He has previously invited Paris, and Mr. Sarkozy in particular, to be a mediator should Israel and Syria begin direct peace negotiations.

Mr. Assad is among more than 40 heads of state attending a summit between EU and non-European Mediterranean countries that opens Sunday. His attendance is seen here as a way of restoring ties with France - which were severed three years ago - and with other members of the international community.

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