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US welcomes Syria-Lebanon breakthrough

The US welcomes the decision by the both sides to open diplomatic relations but says Damascus needs to take "concrete actions to end its destabilizing tactics in the region."

world Updated: Jul 13, 2008 02:58 IST

The United States welcomed the decision on Saturday by Lebanon and Syria to open diplomatic relations but said Damascus needs to take "concrete actions to end its destabilizing tactics in the region."

"We continue to support the establishment of good relations between Lebanon and Syria on the basis of mutual respect (and) we join with France in reiterating the commitment to a sovereign and independent Lebanon," Rob McInturff, a State Department spokesman, told AFP.

But he added that Washington will "continue to limit our diplomatic engagement unless Syria takes concrete actions to end its destabilizing tactics in the region."

Lebanon and Syria said Saturday that they had agreed to establish diplomatic relations, opening embassies in each others' capitals for the first time since their independence from colonial rule.

The State Department said Syria was "showing it is eager to engage with the international community."

McInturff said the United States and other Lebanon watchers "were waiting for a signal that the Syrians are ready to renounce their sponsorship of terrorism, to do more to end the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, to expel the leadership of Palestinian terrorist groups, and to end human rights violations."

Washington continues to blacklist Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the landmark decision following talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, whose election in May ended a drawn-out political crisis in Lebanon.

Presidents Assad and Sleiman confirmed the news at a joint press conference later on Saturday.

Lebanon announced a 30-member national unity government on Friday tasked with resolving the country's worst political crisis since a 1975-1990 civil war.

Syria, the former powerbroker in Lebanon, withdrew its troops in 2005 in the aftermath of the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, ending a military presence of nearly three decades.

Syria was widely blamed for the killing but denies involvement.