Difficult Issues Remain in Lebanon-Syria Relations

Difficult Issues Remain in Lebanon-Syria Relations

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- On the surface, the opening of the Lebanese embassy in Damascus last month and of the Syrian Embassy in Beirut in December is a historic milestone, signaling a new era in Lebanese-Syrian relations. But substantive progress in the relationship remains slow and observers say it is unlikely to gain pace until after June's parliamentary elections in Lebanon.

In the past year, Lebanese-Syrian relations have been encouraged by domestic, regional and international influences. Principal among these has been the end of Syria's diplomatic isolation after the formation of a Lebanese unity government in May 2008 ended a six-month period in which that country lacked a president. Israel agreed to indirect peace negotiations brokered by Turkey, French President Nicolas Sarkozy invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Paris, and the Saudis -- who broke off relations with Syria after former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's assassination -- also renewed bilateral talks with Damascus. Since President Barack Obama has come to office, several U.S. delegations have also visited both countries in an effort to re-engage Syria.

At a summit last August, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Assad promoted the renewal of diplomatic ties between the two long-feuding neighbors. A joint decree on mutual cooperation followed, whereby the two sides agreed to establish embassies, demarcate borders, tackle corruption, cooperate economically and commit to Arab initiatives in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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