Israel, the U.S. and the Arab World
December 19, 2009
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri told Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday that he sought to improve the relations between their countries to better defend Lebanon against Israel, the Syrian news agency Champress reported.
During a meeting in Damascus, Hariri also accused Israel of violating and denying Arab rights, according to the agency.
The leaders met to end nearly five years of animosity between Damascus and a broad political alliance led by Hariri.
Syria's official SANA news agency said the pair discussed how to turn the page on recent turmoil in bilateral relations. It quoted Hariri as saying he was looking for "real and strategic ties with Syria."
According to Champress, Assad told Hariri that Syria was working to establish the best possible relations with its smaller neighbor, which would protect both countries' interests. He stressed that stability in Lebanon was an inseparable part of stability in Syria, the news agency said.
"I can say that the dialogue was constructive and the atmosphere was cordial," Buthaina Shaaban, an Assad aide, told reporters after a first round of talks that lasted three hours.She said the meeting had broken the ice between the two leaders who discussed all issues in a "frank, transparent and cordial climate."
Earlier Saturday, Assad warmly welcomed the prime minister at the entrance of the presidential palace in Damascus after Hariri, a billionaire businessman, flew in to the Syrian capital on his private jet.
Lebanese political sources expect the two leaders to agree on opening a new page in their personal relationship and on strengthening cooperation between their governments to guarantee Lebanon's stability.
"At the end of the day, Syria is the nearest country to us. God willing this visit will bring stability and security to Lebanon," Bahia al-Hariri, a member of the Lebanese parliament and the premier's aunt, said in Lebanon.Hariri's "March 14" alliance has accused Syria of assassinating his politician father, Rafik al-Hariri, in February 2005. They also blamed Damascus for attacking and killing other politicians and journalists.
Syria denies the allegations. A special court based in The Hague has yet to indict anyone for the Hariri killing.
Outrage in Lebanon over the assassination and international pressure forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April 2005, ending three decades of military presence in its smaller neighbour.
Saad al-Hariri's coalition has often clashed in the past with Syria's allies in Lebanon, led by the powerful Iranian-backed group Hezbollah, and the political crisis has threatened to plunge Lebanon into a new civil war.
Rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia, which backs Hariri, earlier this year eased tension and allowed Hariri, who won a parliamentary election in June, to form a unity government that includes Hezbollah and other Damascus allies.
Hezbollah, which fought a war against Israel in 2006, the Second Lebanon War, is the only armed group in Lebanon. It is considered a terrorist group by Washington but Hariri's government has said it is a legitimate force whose aim was to end Israeli occupation of some Lebanese territory.
Hariri, accompanied by only one senior aide, will spend the night in the Syrian capital and hold further talks with senior officials before returning to Beirut on Sunday.