Syria issues decree to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon

Syria said Tuesday it will open an embassy in Beirut and an official with the Syrian Foreign Ministry said that will likely happen before the end of the year.

Syria said Tuesday it plans to open an embassy in Beirut and an official with the Syrian Foreign Ministry said that will likely happen before the end of the year.

The move means Syria will officially recognize the sovereignty of Lebanon.

The Syrian Arab News Agency (Sana) said President Bashar Assad issued a decree on Tuesday that establishes diplomatic ties with Lebanon.

The decree didn't specify when the embassy would open, but announced "the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Syrian Arab Republic and the Lebanese Republic, and the creation of a diplomatic mission at ambassador level in the Lebanese capital Beirut," Sana reported.

Syria and Lebanon decided earlier this year to establish diplomatic relations when Lebanese President Michel Suleiman visited Damascus.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh was expected to visit Damascus on Wednesday to set a date for the embassy opening.

The Syrian ministry official told the Associated Press:  "There will be a Syrian Embassy and an ambassador in Lebanon soon and before the end of the year," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, in line with regulations.

CBC reporter Nahlah Ayed said the opening of the embassy is a significant development.

"This will go a long way towards appeasing those in Lebanon who believe Syria has meddled too much in its affairs," she said.

Ayed said the timing of the decree raises questions as Syria recently deployed thousands of troops along the northern Lebanese border.

"They say that they're doing this to stop smuggling, but there is a great deal of concern here about that move," she said.

Syria, Lebanon have 'complicated relationship': Ayed

Western and anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon have long demanded Syria recognize Lebanon's sovereignty by establishing official relations.

Ayed said the two countries have always had a "complicated relationship."

Lebanon historically was part of Syria, but gained partial independence under French rule in the 1920s and full independence in 1943.

Ayed said official ties between the two countries were never formally established. In the 1970s, Syria sent its troops into Lebanon to stop fighting in the Lebanese civil war and it retained control for nearly 30 years.

There was no embassy in Beirut and political decisions in Lebanon were made in Damascus, Ayed said.

Ties unravelled when former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a 2005 car bombing that many Lebanese blame on Syria — a charge Syria denies.

The assassination led to massive anti-Syrian street protests. International pressure prompted Syria to withdraw its tens of thousands of troops from Lebanon a few months after Hariri was killed.


With files from the Associated Press