Sarkozy in Beirut, expected to resume ties with Syria

Published June 7th, 2008 - 06:46 GMT

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, on a brief visit to Lebanon Saturday, voiced support for President Michel Suleiman and for attempts to promote national unity. Sarkozy is the first Western head of state to visit the country since Suleiman took office at the end of May.


He was greeted at Beirut airport by Suleiman, Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Sarkozy said Suleiman "has a great responsibility to drive this national reconciliation forward.


"It is essential that all Lebanese political forces display their commitment to dialogue," he added in remarks at a luncheon with Suleiman, Saniora, Berri and representatives of all major Lebanese political factions.


For his part, Suleiman said the "Doha agreement, in which France took part, has regenerated long-awaited and desired political stability."


Sarkozy added that "once the institutions have stabilized, (Lebanon) must address the reconstruction of the state and the economy's dynamism to open up to reforms that will allow Lebanon to benefit from what was acquired in Paris III." Turning to security issues, Sarkozy said France remains "committed to strengthening the capacities of the Lebanese army within the framework of a national defense strategy to be established through sincere dialogue among the Lebanese that can no longer be delayed."


According to AFP, Sarkozy has also indicated that "a new page may be opening" in relations with Syria, which took a turn for the worse during the crisis. A source close to his office said on Saturday Sarkozy is to send two senior envoys to Syria, as ties suspended last year over Lebanon's political crisis start to thaw, .

"Mr. Sarkozy is in the coming days to send two envoys to Damascus" -- his advisor Jean-David Levitte and Claude Gueant, the office's secretary general -- the source, declining to be named, told reporters in Beirut. "Everything depends on how things develop, whether at the level of a Syrian embassy being opened in Beirut or respect for civil peace in Lebanon," the source said.

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