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French Version

Suleiman touts prospects for diplomatic ties with Damascus

'Both syria and Lebanon have drawn the lessons of the past'

President Michel Suleiman said on Sunday that Syria has shown readiness to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon. Speaking during a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Suleiman vowed to work on establishing "the best of relations" with Syria in line with what he said in his inaugural address to Parliament on May 25.

Suleiman said that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem's presence at the presidential election session was proof of the brotherly relations between the two states. "Both Syria and Lebanon have drawn the lessons of the past, and their future relations will hopefully serve as a model for all neighboring states," he said.

Suleiman also told the German minister that the dialogue between the rival Lebanese leaders will kick off shortly after a new government is formed. The president hailed Germany's support for this country through its participation in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

He also thanked Germany for its ongoing efforts to broker a prisoner swap between Lebanon and Israel. Germany is acting as mediator in negotiations between Hizbullah and Israel on a prisoner exchange.

Suleiman also told Steinmeier that he was looking forward to Germany's support in liberating the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms and Kafar Shuba Hills and halting Israeli violations of Lebanon's airspace and national waters.

"Lebanon is an advocate of peace, while Israel has been blocking state progress in Lebanon for the past 25 years," he said.

Suleiman also called on Germany and other members of the international community to work on finding a comprehensive solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

"Such solution must ensure the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes in Palestine," the president said.

Steinmeier also met on Sunday with Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Also on Sunday, Saudi King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who met in Jeddah, voiced their support for the Doha agreement, which was signed on May 21 and ended an 18-month political crisis in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Lebanon is still awaiting the formation of its new national unity cabinet after Siniora finished his parliamentary consultations on Saturday and met with Suleiman to brief him on the outcome of his talks with the different parliamentary blocs.

After meeting Suleiman at the Presidential Palace in Baabda on Saturday, Siniora told reporters he did not want to commit to a certain date on which the line-up of the new government would be announced.

"I met President Suleiman and briefed him on the outcome of my consultations," Siniora said. "We need to make a great effort in order to form the new government ... I will resume contacting the different parties and inform the president ... of any progress."

"I am satisfied by the progress that has already been made, but I will not specify a date for the birth of the new government," he added.

Asked if he met objections from the opposition to his heading the new cabinet, Siniora said that the parties who voiced their reservations on his nomination for the post of prime minister had said that they were willing to cooperate with him in forming the new cabinet.

"We have a democratic system that allows each party to state its opinion, but even the parties that did not nominate me voiced their willingness to cooperate in forming the new government," he said.

Earlier on Saturday, Siniora told reporters that the lineup of the new government should reflect Lebanese consensus.

"We want the government to reflect Lebanese consensus and the [terms] of the Doha accord, and I will strive to do that in the next few days," said Siniora, who was reappointed on Wednesday by Suleiman and asked to form a new cabinet.

The premier also said he will hold more discussions with the main players from the opposition and majority camps before announcing his line-up.

Under the Doha deal, the ruling bloc will have 16 seats in the new cabinet and the opposition will have 11, with the president appointing three ministers.

Cabinet seats are allocated to allow each major sect representation, as well as splitting seats equally between Muslims and Christians.

News reports on Sunday said that the main hurdle to the formation of the new cabinet was the distribution of the "service-related ministries" and not the four main "sovereign ministries" - finance, defense, interior and foreign affairs.

The reports said defense and interior will go to the president, foreign affairs to a former ambassador affiliated with Berri, while finance is likely to stay in the hands of Siniora.

Beirut 02-06-2008
The Daily Star

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