Hariri, Assad hold second meeting

The Jerusalem Post (Link) (December 20, 2009)

One day into his first official visit to Damascus, Lebanese Prime Minister Sa�ad Hariri described his talks on Sunday with Syrian President Bashar Assad as �positive,� according to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

At a press conference at the Lebanese Embassy, Hariri told reporters he was optimistic about the growing diplomatic ties between Syria and Lebanon.

�We want to have good relations with Syria based on openness and honesty,� the Lebanese premier was quoted as saying, conveying hope that the two neighboring countries would come to a fresh start after decades of war, strife and suspicion. He added that Assad shared his vision for friendly relations.

�We positively touched upon all the topics,� Hariri said. �Assad was very positive in dealing with all issues pertaining to the Lebanese people.� According to the SANA report, Hariri said the two leaders agreed on �practical steps� aimed at furthering economic and diplomatic cooperation between their respective countries.

Hariri�s visit, which began on Saturday, was his first official visit to Syria as Lebanon�s prime minister - a post he undertook only recently, tentatively forming a power-sharing government after over five months of negotiations with the countries� Syrian-backed, Hizbullah-led opposition. It was expected to be a difficult, charged and historic visit.

Hariri heads the country�s Western-backed 14 March coalition, so named after a 2005 rally in memory of the Lebanese prime minister�s father and predecessor, Rafik Hariri, who was murdered in a massive explosion in Beirut that same year.

Syria has repeatedly been called on to cooperate with United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission officials charged with investigating the elder Hariri�s murder. Several Lebanese military men with close ties to the Syrian government have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the case.

During Hariri and Assad�s first meeting, held on Saturday, the two leaders reportedly discussed advancing strategic ties between the nations in a way that would benefit both their peoples.

Assad adviser Buthaina Shaaban told reporters their talks were �frank� and �succeeded in overcoming difficulties that had marred relations in the past five years.� �The guarantee is the will of both President Assad and Hariri to build a positive and constructive relationship,� she said.