Assad says Syria may open embassy in Lebanon

KUWAIT (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his country will consider opening an embassy in Lebanon for the first time once its smaller neighbor forms a government able to foster good ties with Damascus.

Assad said Syria had raised the issue in 2005, when Syrian troops left Lebanon after a 29-year sojourn, but decided against opening an embassy as ties with Lebanon deteriorated.

A Qatari-mediated deal last month ended Lebanon’s 18-month standoff between the U.S.-backed ruling coalition and Hezbollah-led opposition that had paralyzed state institutions and pushed the country to the brink of a new civil war.

Lebanese Prime Minister designate Fouad Siniora began efforts last week to form a national unity government in which Syrian-backed Hezbollah and its allies will wield veto power.

“Our conditions were that there should be a national unity government firstly and that there be good ties with it…. Obviously, if there is a unity government that represents all the Lebanese parties then our ties with it will be good,” he said in comments carried on Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA.

“When these conditions are provided for then we will exchange soon, God willing, embassies with Lebanon after studying the situation of the Syrian-Lebanese Supreme Commission.”

Ties between the two countries have so far been governed by a joint commission in what many Lebanese consider a reluctance on Syria’s part to recognize their country’s sovereignty.

Syria sent troops to Lebanon in 1976 and had a powerful grip on Lebanese politics over the following three decades.

It withdrew its troops in 2005 in the face of international pressure and Lebanese street protests following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Damascus still wields substantial influence over politics in Lebanon through allies including Hezbollah and the Amal movement. The United States, France and Arab countries including Saudi Arabia have backed the ruling coalition in the crisis and blamed Syria for stoking tensions.

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