Rice welcomes Syria’s move on ties with Lebanon

CAON3FBQ2.jpgWASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday welcomed as a “very good first step” Syria’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon at an ambassadorial level.

“We have long stood for the normalization of relations between Syria and Lebanon on the basis of equality and respect for Lebanese sovereignty,” Rice told a news conference.

“This will prove to be a very good first step,” she added of the decision to establish diplomatic ties.

Damascus has been under pressure from the United States and other governments, including France, to treat its smaller neighbor more as a sovereign state by taking steps that include opening a Beirut embassy and demarcating borders with Lebanon.

Rice said Syria must now go ahead and demarcate the border with Lebanon and respect Syria’s sovereignty in other ways.

While welcoming the latest move, the United States has long been critical of what it sees as Syria’s meddling in Lebanon.

Syria dominated Lebanon until the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri that triggered pressure for it to end a 29-year military presence in the country.

At least 15 people, including nine soldiers, were killed in Lebanon on Wednesday in the deadliest attack on the army since a battle with al Qaeda-inspired militants last year. There were no claims of responsibility for the attack.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood strongly condemned the attack and said Washington supported the efforts of the Lebanese government to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“Lebanon has seen far too many such attacks, carried out and supported by those who prefer that Lebanon be a place of fear and instability,” Wood said in a statement.

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