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Lebanon, Syria Agree to Establish Diplomatic Relations


Syria and Lebanon have agreed to establish diplomatic ties and exchange ambassadors for the first time since the two countries gained independence more than 60 years ago.

A Syrian government adviser says President Bashar al-Assad and his visiting Lebanese counterpart, Michel Suleiman, made the decision during talks Wednesday in Damascus. She says the two leaders told their foreign ministers to take the necessary measures to carry out the new agreement.

President Suleiman arrived in Syria Wednesday for a landmark two-day trip aimed at strengthening bilateral ties.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the agreement will prove to be a very good first step, if Syria proceeds to set the border between the two countries and respect Lebanon's sovereignty in other ways.

She says Washington has long stood for the normalization of relations between Syria and Lebanon based on equality and respect for Lebanon's sovereignty.

The United States has long been critical of what it considers Syrian meddling in Lebanese affairs.

Syria and Lebanon, both former French colonies, have never had formal diplomatic ties, but announced in July they would open embassies in their respective countries.

The state-owned Syrian newspaper Tishrin praised Mr. Suleiman's visit to Syria as a chance to overcome past mistakes by establishing relations based on mutual respect.

Relations between Syria and Lebanon have been strained since the assassination in 2005 of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and the forced withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon a few months later. Syria has been widely blamed for the killing but denies involvement.

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

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